It happens instantaneously, but it takes years.
It’s like looking up at the stars and seeing the light and knowing those stars are so far away in time and space, even if you can see them.
It’s like looking up at the stars and spinning around with your arms out and letting gravity take you.
It happens. Inevitable. Irrevocable.
Mycroft is alone. He is three and the house is big and it echoes. He scoots his feet on the rugs.
He is four and the friends of his parents have children, plural, they have siblings. He is smart, smarter, smartest, talented, a prodigy, a genius. He has a slight way with words that makes his mum smile. He is still too small to reach anything.
He is five and realises he is lonely. He has Lion (who is named Lion because you can’t properly name a lion, can you, the King of the Jungle cannot be tamed with a mere name) and his books and as much paper as he wants to scribble on. But the house is big and it echoes. He plays the piano and each note sounds heavy, sustained weight when he sets a book on the damper pedal to keep the sympathetic resonance he feels.
He is six and he likes to have something to think on, but is too lazy to go find it. He wanders the house, peering into rooms and drawers and at bookshelves; he wanders the gardens, staring at flora and fauna, and occasionally he makes flying machines that crash after a few flaps. He’s working on them though. He doesn’t talk much, building through words in his head. His mind is big and it echoes.
He is seven. He is a big brother. He is no longer alone. He looks down at greybluegreen eyes and his baby brother stares back and they smile in unison.
He tries out the unfamiliar consonants and vowels (much like his own).
The first five months after Sherlock is born, he is noisy. He is always crying, babbling, bubbling, screeching, anything and everything to make himself heard. Then, suddenly, he quiets.
Everyone in the house breathes in guilty relief, thank God that bloody racket is gone, but Mycroft misses it. Sherlock is fascinating. And Mycroft seems to be the only one who notices the real quiet and why.
Sherlock stares out from under his unruly dark curls, watching, his eyes focusing intently until he’s distracted by something shiny or something moving or simply when he loses interest. It seems normal in a baby, a regular cognitive function, but Mycroft observes Sherlock; his little brother is different: he doesn’t just watch, he sees.
His hands reach for things, ready to touch and feel and explore until he’s turned it over and over and over and absorbed all he can, then he goes on to the next. His brother is learning at an exhaustive rate, almost as fast as Mycroft does, and Mycroft trails him around the house, because Sherlock doesn’t want to be carried, unless he’s too tired and petulant to put up a fight. Mycroft fetches things Sherlock can’t reach or helps build tall, trembling towers so they can both reach. He is like sustained lightning shooting through the house and Mycroft is eight, nine, ten, waiting for the pursuing thunder.
Then he realises he is the thunder when Sherlock is four and a neighbour child knocks Sherlock down into a puddle of muddy water as he pokes and prods at earthworms, and the sodding ragamuffin tries to take his brother’s wellies. Mycroft doesn’t think, he acts, backhanding the kid who’s a head taller than Sherlock, giving him a punch to his sickeningly soft belly and then the little bastard runs off crying, blood dripping between his fingers. Sherlock doesn’t cry, just turns his face into the slow rain and then pats the mud surrounding him, letting his fingers sink. Mycroft knows he was scared, but Sherlock still doesn’t cry, digging holes with an angry expression.
On Sherlock’s fifth birthday, Mycroft gives him a flying machine. It works. Until it flies into a tree.
Sherlock isn’t alone. He is three and the house is big and it echoes because he makes noise to hear it bounce back to him and he makes it bounce again, in overlapping waves. Mycroft shows him how to scuff his socks on the rugs and they shock each other with sparks of blue light until their fingers smart. His brother smiles when Sherlock laughs.
He is four and he discovers he isn’t the only one with a sibling; however, he is the only one who has Mycroft. He is smart, smarter, talented, a prodigy, a genius, he has the Holmes brain and Mycroft kneels to his level so they can see eye to eye because Sherlock is fascinated by his brother and Mycroft is fascinated by him. Mycroft hands him things from tabletops and together, they build a rudimentary steam engine in the kitchen.
He is five and realises he is singular. He is separate from Mycroft, even though Mycroft bathes him and they wage monumental sea battles; even though he climbs into Mycroft’s bed after nightmares: he knows the monsters can’t exist, but they do in his head and Mycroft talks him through science problems until they go away. He has Bear (who is too fearsome and ferocious for something as constraining as Gerald or Peter or Reginald or any other name his father suggested) and he can have adventures without Mycroft. He doesn’t have to share. He’s learning the violin and duets with Mycroft, but they both scorn playing for an audience, even one so polite as their parents.
He is about to turn six and his mind won’t stop, unless he’s sleeping and even then, he dreams in bright colours; vivid, clear details; a jerky half-linear fashion that only breaks up if he’s distressed or overheated in his blankets. He remembers almost all his dreams. He feels like he’s constantly searching, running to connect the dots and he can’t sit still, he might miss something otherwise. He stays up as late as he can, fighting off drowsiness, something might happen while he’s sleeping and that is impossible, he won’t allow it. He occasionally forgets about food until Mycroft or Mummy snags him and plunks him into a chair. He runs and runs and runs and runs. His mind is big and it echoes and he’s dropping coins in the well to make noise.
The Holmes brothers continue on their trajectory, their minds devouring everything in sight. Big brother, little brother. Mycroft smirks, waits patiently for Sherlock’s brain to catch up with itself in its typical feverish fashion and Sherlock sighs in irritation because sometimes Mycroft is so bloody smug.
Life continues the way it does, steady stepping stone by steady stepping stone. They aren’t overly affectionate in public or private; they’re too busy teaching each other about each other.
They’re on the simple path of childhood where each day is a discovery they make together and their lives could continue on this way, moving through space regardless of time. They orbit each other and this is their own little universe, constructed from their hands and brains and the shades of their eyes.
On Mycroft’s thirteenth birthday, Sherlock tries to make fireworks from scratch, but only succeeds in setting a tree on fire and it doesn’t matter, the burning leaves in the wind are glorious. The smoke can probably be seen a kilometer away. Mummy comes to his rescue with a replacement gift and the gift is rather pedestrian, but acceptable on short notice. He gives Mycroft an umbrella.
It rains the next day. To make up for the fireworks and the umbrella, Sherlock spends the next week fashioning a machine that pours tea for you and it works four times before it breaks, spilling tea all over Mycroft’s knees.
[II. force. ]
The first time Sherlock meets death is when he’s in his brother’s room, sprawled on Mycroft’s bed, thumbing through Mycroft’s chemistry text. Mycroft is at his desk, studiously jotting down notes in his quick, slashing handwriting and they don’t talk because Mycroft at thirteen has suddenly gone quiet; sometimes he doesn't know what to say. Sherlock’s only five (about to turn six and Mummy’s promised him on a trip into London, and Mycroft’s promised to take their old steam engine and make a working tank), but Mycroft can feel it as Sherlock watches his brother become private and closed in on himself. So his little brother asks questions, because he can, because Mycroft will answer him, even if it takes him ten minutes to do it, that’s just time enough for Sherlock to think up new questions. Constantly.
An almost cloudless day and the window cracks with a punched, sharp sound, splintering but not shattering and he hears Sherlock make a pained sound. Then Sherlock’s running to the window, Mycroft scrambling behind him, “Stay back, Sherlock, there might be broken glass.”
“It didn’t break, Mycroft, see,” Sherlock says disdainfully, in his clear child's voice, can’t Mycroft see the intact window with the webbing in the glass.
“Crazing,” Mycroft says quietly, then leans forward, tilting to find what hit the window. But Sherlock’s beat him to it, pressing his forehead below the impact circle, feeling the shiver of the cracks as they desperately try to hold together.
“It’s a bird,” he says, words rushing together, excited that he found it, “there.” He points and he jitters, he has to see the bird, he wants to see what happened to it. He’s sprinting out of Mycroft’s room and down the stairs as his brother calls after him, “Sherlock, wait. Sherlock!” Chasing after the lightning.
Out in the garden, Sherlock stares up the tall wall of the house to find Mycroft’s room (it’s easy to find now, he doesn’t have to count windows anymore, he likes to come out at night and stare at the stars and someday he’ll climb down out of his own window, next to Mycroft’s, so he has to know the position of his room and Mycroft’s and how far it is to the ground from his windowsill) and then follows the line down from the crumpled circle in the glass to the ground.
There. A spot of blue, curled awkwardly on the grass. The black eyes are open, round and almost liquid-like, bright as the jet beads on Mummy’s necklace. The head is turned to look at Sherlock and he kneels down.
The head is backwards.
“Its neck is broken,” Mycroft says softly and his fingers carefully turn the bird over so Sherlock can see its breast, the wings falling open and loose.
“Didn’t it see the window?” Sherlock asks and Mycroft shakes his head.
“How could it not see—“
“Sometimes all they see is space and think they can keep flying,” Mycroft explains. He never does it like the teachers do, patronisingly, with kindness in their voices. They both despise that, how people only view them as children, won’t people learn to move past what they see to perceive what’s actually there. His brother explains things because he knows Sherlock will understand. “Or they see their reflection and think it’s another bird.”
“So they attack it,” Sherlock says.
Mycroft doesn’t reply, just wipes his hand on the grass.
Sherlock stares at the bird, wondering how it could’ve hit the window so it broke the glass, and it died all at the same time. He wants to take the bird apart, see its bones, see where the little wings grow out. What would it be like to grow wings? Could Sherlock give himself wings? Just sew them on like how Mummy sewed the arm back onto Bear?
Maybe its heart is smashed. Mycroft made a mechanical heart for Bear when Sherlock cut Bear open and discovered he didn’t have a heart. Maybe the bird’s heart is smashed.
He wants to see. He has scissors.
When he glances up, Mycroft is watching him with a look in his eyes, as if he knows, as if he’s sad or upset.
But Sherlock isn’t upset. The dead bird is interesting, it’s fantastic, it’s something new. His world has become just a little bit brighter, like the powders he burned the other day.
Mycroft watches blood ooze from Sherlock’s lip; he must’ve bit down on it, startled, when the bird hit the window. “Come here, Sherlock, you’re bleeding,” and immediately, Sherlock feels it dribbling down his chin, he’s bleeding, alive, but the bird isn’t, dead.
The bird was alive, now it’s dead. And Sherlock wants to know what happened, why, and what does the bird do now.
Like usual, Mycroft reads his mind.
He's five; he ends up with a bloody mouth and a pair of blood-slippery scissors and the wings of a dead bird.
They stop for lunch and when they come back out into the garden, they startle a tomcat with the oddly-shaped corpse clamped between its claws and Mycroft wrenches it away, but the damage is done. Sherlock holds back tears of sheer frustration because the necropsy wasn't finished, Mycroft was still showing him the organs and their functions and he'd held the bird's heart in his fingers. He wanted to know how much it weighed. The lungs too. Everything was so small, smaller than Sherlock.
He hates being denied. He stomps into the house and hides for three hours before reappearing, crawling under Mycroft’s desk, resting his tired, angry head against Mycroft’s shins while he studies. Mycroft passes him a couple of biscuits and a handwritten maths problem and things slowly tilt back to normal.
The cat gets the bird.
Mycroft buries the wings. He’d save them for Sherlock if he could.
That night, Sherlock finds the tiny furcula balanced on his pillow, like an ancient, delicate arrowhead.
Mycroft turns thirteen. His father takes him into his office, just off the library, the sanctum sanctorum where Sherlock is forbidden to enter and even Mycroft, the careful, forgiven son, isn’t allowed to enter under normal circumstances. A heavy hand on his arm with a heavy golden ring pressing into Mycroft’s muscle and his father talks to him about paths and choosing them. Where to go. Where to end up. How to get there. What’s expected and what isn’t.
His father doesn’t tell Mycroft how to survive or how to make it look easy. Mycroft read Machiavelli. He knows. It won’t be difficult.
He rolls his eyes, but only later, when he’s alone in the library and he finds Sherlock hiding under the enormous wooden table, kicking his heels against the floor. Those greybluegreen eyes never changed from babyhood and if anything, Sherlock’s hair turned darker. He’s a small child and Mycroft can easily pick him up, which he does now because their father usually lets them run wild in the library, but he senses today is different.
It rains. Sherlock’s contraption spills tea everywhere, in an ever-growing lake on Mummy’s favourite rug, and Mycroft wants to laugh, but Sherlock’s gritted-teeth frustrated, so he can’t. He wants to say to Sherlock, it’ll work, try again, check the hydraulics, but Sherlock won’t listen, stubborn, sullen, ignoring the world around him as he works through it in his head. But something distracts his little brother before he can fix it and Mycroft lets him cannibalise it for parts.
Sherlock is six and Mycroft gains a little height and catches Sherlock scowling at him. Mycroft knows what’s coming for him, the way his bones itch and his skin is too tight and there’s a tickle in his throat. He lies awake at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering when everything changed and he didn’t know it. He feels different. He sees things differently.
It happened overnight and he missed it. He can’t let that happen again.
He is fourteen and Sherlock is seven. Incrementally, the world is breaking down and Mycroft watches it break because he knows it will rebuild itself into a new configuration; this is just an iteration and when Sherlock goes through it, it will be another iteration, and they will weather the storm, again. His voice is changing and Sherlock looks at him distrustfully, his brother’s independent streak running deeper and thicker now. School is underwhelming in a way that makes Mycroft pity people; he struggles with not screaming in utter, absolute boredom and flips through his advanced textbooks with interest only when he’s not in the classroom. Sherlock reads with him, piled in his lap, complaining about Mycroft’s knees and elbows, and Mycroft meticulously learns to control his limbs, though they seem to shoot out of his control. The two of them go through the chapters separately and meet somewhere in the middle; Sherlock talks with his hands and Mycroft corrects him with the text.
He is fifteen and Sherlock is eight. Mycroft learns a valuable lesson. This is the last time he will have to physically intimidate anyone, anyone. And he does it for Sherlock. The first fight in the rain so long ago wasn’t the last; he’s defended himself, sure, but he’s defended Sherlock more. His brother is quiet most of the time, but talks in other people’s silences, filling them with details and information and a smiling rudeness that’s gotten him almost throttled on several occasions. And Mycroft makes sure to be there; Sherlock fights like a wild animal and Mycroft fights with an efficiency of energy. He tries teaching Sherlock and he knows Sherlock understands, but Sherlock is nothing if not contrary; he’ll fight how he likes, the rest of the world be damned.
This time, the snot-nosed prat is Mycroft’s age and that isn’t the only injustice, he’s a fucking bully to boot. A typical bully without a brain in his head and Sherlock hooks a lucky foot to get the red-faced bastard on his back, but it’s Mycroft who kicks him in the ribs, punches him when he tries to rise, a one-two to the head, and then settles his shoe on the wanker’s throat. He gently puts his weight on his leg and the bully’s eyes bulge, so Mycroft calls it a victory.
Sherlock’s bleeding from the temple and he’s shaken enough to let Mycroft pull him close, holding Sherlock against his side, his sleeve absorbing Sherlock’s blood until they can get home.
The white bandage in his brother’s dark hair is stark and Mycroft knows this isn’t the last time he’ll see Sherlock injured, but he can try and prevent it. Control is an act of will.
After that, he learns he can intimidate with a simple selection of words and a smile and the threat of knowledge. He uses his words and he uses them to cut cleanly, deeply, with surgical precision and he doesn’t watch the metaphorical entrails fall to the ground. He can use sleight of hand and the blade of his tongue to topple the world, rebuild it as he sees fit. He only has to know.
His sweet tooth is still rampant; when he was little, he thought he could find it with his tongue, feeling around his molars, but now, he just avoids the cakes and biscuits and candies. He’s getting taller and he’s always hungry but losing weight as if he were ill and suddenly, everything is wrong.
Nothing is right and he’s constantly dissatisfied and Sherlock won’t stop asking questions until one day, Mycroft snaps, “Shut it, Sherlock, I don’t have time—“ Which is ludicrous, he has plenty of time, it’s usually just him and Sherlock and the hidden mouse-footed staff, the house is big and it echoes. His voice, deep and smoothing out, echoes. His words echo.
And Sherlock looks shocked, completely taken aback before shutting his mouth with a click of his teeth. Mycroft’s little brother doesn’t talk to him or look at him for three weeks.
Mycroft remembers what it was like to be lonely.
He gives in first and he knows it, he acknowledges it. He and Sherlock have poor impulse control and it’s almost non-existent around each other, which makes every discovery brighter and every fight extend into periods of barely civil hissing.
One night, he stands in Sherlock’s doorway and hears a noise. Not crying, but close. He curls into Sherlock’s bed, keeping a respectful distance, because if anything, Sherlock needs respect though Mycroft will never, ever tell him. His little brother turns over, clutching Bear, and Mycroft remembers too that Sherlock is only eight. He forgets because Sherlock’s eyes and mind are so old.
He falls asleep after Sherlock and wakes before him and sneaks out. Sherlock tells Mycroft at breakfast, as if nothing has happened, “I want to learn to pick locks.”
Sherlock is nine and Mycroft is sixteen. Sherlock’s having fun. They’re picking locks and pickpocketing each other and the staff and Mummy, when she glides through the house. School is a misery, but he’s skipping ahead, like Mycroft did.
He has his brother to himself when he wants him around and he takes off whenever the feeling comes over him. He sets out to read every book in the library, but this quickly becomes tedious and he doesn’t get out of the As, instead pulling down the books that sound interesting and stealing Mycroft’s textbooks when he gets a chance.
He sees everything. It’s all there, in perfect detail. The world is made of tiny pieces, like a kaleidoscope and he sees each shard and then the big picture. Then he turns it and the pieces slide-fall and the world realigns in new ways.
He discovers from the scent on his father’s jacket pockets and the alien crease in his collar and the mud on his trouser hems that something is wrong, horribly wrong. He wants to tell Mycroft, but it’s disturbing and he can’t sleep. Mycroft’s already become almost another person, this tall fellow with the new voice and gait; he and Sherlock don’t see eye to eye as much anymore.
The secret is bothering him, not because it’s possible but because it’s true, the facts are all there and the kaleidoscope shards slot into place to make the truth. He feels it in his belly and his bones when he’s right. He’s gotten better at it: figuring out where Mummy went shopping and who she met along the way; what page Mycroft is on in his book; where the maid lost her earring and how and why. He tracks people through the house by the wear on the rugs and the upstairs carpets. He hunts the gardeners by their shoe treads in the dust. The animals by flattened grass and broken twigs.
The secret is keeping him awake at night and Mycroft says, “Sherlock, what’s the matter, you look awful,” and runs his thumbs over Sherlock’s cheekbones, at the dark circles under his eyes. His mind is going in elliptical rotations, so fast he might spark, and he doesn’t want to catch fire.
It pours out of him at dinner when Father is saying, “Sit up, Sherlock, and don’t slurp your soup. Sounds disgusting. Doesn’t take a genius.”
“Oh, sod off,” Sherlock replies, testing the phrase and it’s a pleasing result, everyone at the table stunned at if stabbed with a hot poker. (He likes bluntness; it’s easier than dancing around the rules, stupid rules, the rules are boring and people would get to the rest of their lives faster if they just skipped past all the hullabaloo. Sherlock has things to learn, things to do, people only get in the way.) As an experiment, it’s successful. As family interaction, it’s astronomically incalculable.
“Sherlock,” Mycroft says and it makes him twitch in his seat because Mycroft is disappointed, but it shouldn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, “It doesn’t matter, Mycroft, the lot of you can piss off. You’re angry with me for saying two words considered vulgar in social situations when he’s the one who’s abandoning us.”
This isn’t his fault, but he does like their continued surprise and so he informs them Father has a mistress, has had for at least six months.
And the kaleidoscope breaks.
He only wanted the moment, the attention, because he’s right and it’s true, he figured it out like magic, but now, he’s ruined something and Mycroft says, “You know for sure,” and it’s a question as Mummy starts crying silently.
Sherlock nods and he’s miserable, but he’s right, so he feels defiant, raises his chin.
Father doesn’t say a word, merely pushes away from the table. He never talks to Sherlock again.
The shards begin to fall.
The row is loud enough to rival the thunderstorm that moves in around midnight and Mycroft sits with him in his room and they predict the weather for the next three days, discussing the barometer changes and the direction of the wind and the cloud movement over the next four hours.
Arrangements are made for their father to move out, but a month into the proceedings, Sherlock sneaks into the sanctum sanctorum to hide under the mammoth desk since he needs to be cramped and alone, the house is too quiet and it’s pressing on his brain. Instead, he finds his father dead at his desk of a heart attack. He screams for Mycroft and doesn’t cry at the funeral.
It doesn’t rain and Sherlock gathers all the newspapers in the house to read his father’s obituary. Father’s picture is there and the words underneath are all the same, but it’s as if Sherlock’s reading about an alien, because he doesn’t remember this man, he doesn’t know who he was. This isn’t the same man who taught Mycroft and Sherlock how to tie ties and would steal the raw dough pie crust edges from the kitchen when the cook made meat pies and once told Sherlock the stars were made of burning gases, not ice.
He hides in his father’s office and no one can find him because they don’t think to look there, but Mycroft does, because Mycroft thinks like Sherlock and always takes the more interesting route around an issue.
“Sherlock,” Mycroft says, kneeling next to him and Sherlock scowls.
“What. What is it, Mycroft.”
But his brother doesn’t answer and his face is like the day the bird flew into the window and Sherlock remembers the wings buried somewhere in the garden as Mycroft walks out.
His hands are stained with newspaper ink as he spreads the papers all along the floor and that’s when he notices a different article.
A swimming accident in London. A young man drowned in a swimming pool. He was a champion swimmer and he was about Mycroft’s age. Sherlock wonders if he had a little brother too, but none of the articles say. The dead kid smiles in the same picture in every newspaper and Sherlock reads each story write-up very carefully. The reporters got little different details each time to make one big picture of this kid from Brighton who came up to London simply to swim and then died mid-stroke, floating facedown with his lungs full of water.
Sherlock shudders; to drown would be an awful way to die. But something’s bothering him. Something’s off just a hair, just a little wrong and he can’t tell what, but it’s there. He follows the story through the papers until it dies out completely.
One sentence and one picture of the locker room at the swimming pool and Sherlock has to find Mycroft.
“Mycroft, he was murdered,” he says, panting, because he’s run everywhere and Mycroft is in the garden, staring with his hands in his pockets at a mess of tiny cracked eggs on the ground. Sky-blue, speckled eggs and Mycroft nudges them with the toe of his shoe.
“Who was murdered,” Mycroft says and Sherlock’s pulsating with the answer because he knows, this is the same feeling as when he found out about his father, and the newspaper he’s carrying rustles as he shakes. This is big, another secret to break the kaleidoscope, and then Mycroft’s fingers are on his chin, so Sherlock has to look at him. “Who was murdered, Sherlock, what are you talking about.”
He can tell Mycroft, he can, Mycroft is his brother.
“Carl Powers,” Sherlock says, waving the folded paper at Mycroft. “Carl Powers. He was a swimmer and he drowned, but he was murdered. He didn’t just drown.”
Mycroft takes the paper from him and reads, frowning, his thinking face with his fingertips on his mouth, his usual expression on this new, tall Mycroft, and Sherlock’s relieved when Mycroft glances back at him, his eyes serious.
“Why do you think he was murdered? Evidence, Sherlock, remember, you need evidence.”
Sherlock’s nodding, gripping Mycroft’s hand where he holds the article. “It’s his shoes. His clothes are all there, even his towels. But his shoes are gone. They aren’t in his locker, they aren’t out by the pool…” He’s so excited, he feels lightheaded. “Where are his shoes?”
“Someone took them,” Mycroft says and Sherlock grins.
“Someone took them after he died. Someone not the police.”
Mycroft stares at Sherlock as if Sherlock is something astounding, something wholly brand new and Sherlock feels brand new, he’s figured out a stranger’s dreadful secret.
Then his brother looks grim and takes Sherlock’s hand, squeezing. “Let’s call the police.”
Sherlock listens in as Mycroft calls and the sergeant on the other end in London is brusque, ungrateful and laughs when Mycroft says, “Sir, I think Carl Powers was murdered.” The police officer laughs and Sherlock’s never heard a worse sound in his life. The man sounds like he’s choking, then says, “What makes you think that.”
“His shoes are missing,” Sherlock blurts out over the line. “Did anyone look for his shoes.”
“Look, kids, as much as I enjoy your prank calls ‘cause they break up my day, I’ve got better things to do.”
The line disconnects with a heavy thunk, like the dirt hitting Father’s coffin.
He runs out into the garden because he can’t breathe and the little broken eggs are still there under the tree. Sherlock stomps them until he can’t see the sky-blue anymore.
He doesn’t cry, but he does crawl into Mycroft’s lap, knocking the two of them over in the grass. His face is hot against Mycroft’s neck and he can feel his brother’s heartbeat. The two of them call again, three more times, and Sherlock writes a letter every day for a week.
But no one takes them seriously, no one returns their calls or Sherlock’s letters and Sherlock will forever have the name Carl Powers engraved on his brain.
He knew. He was right. His bones told him so, his bones don’t lie to him, but the police won’t listen. Mycroft gives him a folder with all the information from the newspapers and Sherlock stuffs it in his desk, then crawls into Mycroft’s bed that night because he can’t sleep, he can still hear that stupid officer’s laugh, all the way from London.
Then Mycroft is sent to uni a year early.
Sherlock is nine and Mycroft is leaving. He sits on his brother’s bed, watching him pack and he reverse-pickpockets things into Mycroft’s luggage: a test tube; a squirrel skull; a copy of his lab book detailing the spider’s web progression and the patterns and measurements in the silk; a tiny spindly leg of the tea robot – the metal still smells of tea.
He lies in the piles of Mycroft’s clothes and Mycroft moves him, kissing his forehead, and Sherlock holds onto one of his shirts.
He wants to go too, he could stuff his brain full like a demented stuffed animal, because there has to be more and Mycroft could control what he can’t, explain away why Sherlock knocked over that fruit stand, it was important, the bird was going to take him directly to its nest and—
Mycroft could come back to him, instead of this tall, angular person who resembles Mycroft and they could spar intellectually over thought experiments and perpetual motion machines and the tides.
He doesn’t understand what’s going on, it’s not rational, it’s not logical and it doesn’t make any bloody sense. He doesn’t want Mycroft to leave and he doesn’t know why.
Sherlock is nine and he is alone.
Mycroft is seventeen and alone at uni. He understands better than Sherlock how to blend in, how to smile and make polite small talk and drink tea with people he can barely stand to be in the same building with, how to behave as if he’s normal. None of these people are his equals, maybe they have better alleged breeding, maybe they have more money and better connections, but only just.
None of these people have his intellect. Only his little brother does.
He goes to classes and stifles his yawns and shakes hands with those who apparently warrant it.
He daydreams about Sherlock, the growing British spitfire careening through the house on a fighter mission to dismantle everything by smashing it apart so he can see how it works and then zooming away, leaving the pieces for someone else to pick up and put back together. No one else does that for Sherlock. Mycroft pictures the house going up in flames or windows shattered by wild robot arms or the piano systematically reduced to pieces so Mycroft can never play it again without middle C sounding strange and none of the pedals working.
He’s bored, but he understands. He knows where he’s headed and what he’s supposed to do and in a way, it’s exactly what his father told him. His father meant it as a bland, asinine life lesson. Mycroft took it as a warning.
Knowledge is power, but power is nothing if you don’t know what to do with it and how it reacts to the mundanity of everyday life. Mycroft intends to gain both. He knows he’s dangerous, he could be spectacularly dangerous, if he applied himself. But the idea is to get people to do it for you, obsequiously, without them even being aware of it. Manipulation is such a dirty word, but Mycroft loves to hear it in his head.
Control is an act of will; he has control, regardless of his inherent tendency towards poor impulses; the only time he’s in danger from that is around Sherlock.
Who isn’t here. Mycroft misses him like he’s missing half his brain. Mummy says he has two shadows: his and Sherlock. Most days he thinks he’s Sherlock’s.
He goes home every chance he gets, not because he has a particular attachment to the brick-and-mortar, but he does have a duty as man of the house, taking care of Mummy and his little brother.
He goes home every chance he gets despite all of that. He goes home for Sherlock.
Sherlock isn’t chubby like Mycroft was, he’s all angular sticks stuck together with joints and some law of gravity only Sherlock contains. Mycroft figured this out long ago because he orbits Sherlock in a maddening way.
Sherlock is ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen. He chooses his words carefully now, blunt as ever, but with a final sting so like Mycroft’s, Mycroft feels a swell of delight because Sherlock does this on his own. Sherlock’s gotten taller, lanky and gangly, and he too looks ready to skip the awkward stage of puberty, go right into manhood without a backwards glance. Mycroft wants to tell Sherlock he’s proud of him, for letting people live, for not destroying everything, for surviving; he catches Sherlock getting out of the bath and his little brother has new scars Mycroft wasn’t around to prevent or be a conspirator to, and Mycroft’s heart breaks a little. He’d say these things: pride, joy at their shared blood, how they have each other’s mannerisms, love. But Sherlock would take it as mocking and Mycroft only mocks to get a rise out of him, take the piss, and that wouldn’t be Mycroft’s specific objective. He loves his baby brother, this new person emerging from all the angles.
Mycroft is twenty-one and a man of the world, in almost every sense of the phrase. He’s had men and women, only to discover he prefers men, but something is always missing, something is never right and he becomes restless; he’s smoked but found he doesn’t care for it; he drinks and narrows down his taste to exactly what he likes; he perfects his manner of dress and feels like he’s dressing for someone, not the vacant lot surrounding him, the polite people in their polite bubbles, but again, that ghost of a person he feels looking over his shoulder. Most of the time he turns and expects to see Sherlock.
When he buys a new umbrella, he remembers Sherlock’s gift, Sherlock frowning fiercely over how it wasn’t fireworks or something rigged to explode when Mycroft set a match to it. It rains the next day.
He goes home for the holidays and Sherlock is fourteen, sullen at the mouth, angry at the wrists, obstinate at the knees, though his posture is still straight, such that Mycroft wants to run slow fingers up his spine and into his dark curls, like a road map to some undiscovered country, and Mycroft’s throat goes dry.
Sherlock’s eyes find him over the days and Mycroft sees them burning larger than normal. He has a sudden drop in his stomach, a want, because Sherlock is becoming eloquent, his silences full like they used to be, only he has a bigger vocabulary now for what he isn’t saying.
Mycroft intuits Sherlock doesn’t completely know what he’s doing around Mycroft, how they seem to be dragging each other in some new direction, a collision course along an unknown vector. Sherlock stands in Mycroft’s doorway in his floppy pyjamas and says, “Mycroft, I saved this for you,” and he almost chokes until he sees Sherlock holding out something for him. It’s a book about deep space discoveries and quantum implications.
It’s awkward because they don’t really have each other back; they’re brothers but they’ve forgotten how to be, so they sit cross-legged on Mycroft’s bed and predict the weather for the next three days and then Sherlock asks about the people at uni.
And Mycroft dissects them with an autopsy scalpel and gives Sherlock his rib cutters to pry them open so they can see people’s foibles in situ. Sherlock is so bitter, too young to be this jaded about humanity, but Mycroft sees both sides of the coin whereas Sherlock takes what he wants and discards the rest as if he were perpetually three years old.
They grin at each other over the autopsy table in their heads and everything clicks back into place, like dislocated bones.
Like usual, Sherlock reads his mind, his brother’s long-fingered hand resting on Mycroft’s ankle as they talk, then Sherlock starts to name the bones in Mycroft’s foot, working his way up, his new, pitched-dark voice vibrating its way into Mycroft, proximal, intermediate, distal phalanges; metatarsal; medial, intermediate, lateral cuneiform; cuboid; navicular; talus; calcaneus, his baby brother completely unaware of how Mycroft’s blood heats faster and faster at Sherlock’s touch.
“Stop it, Sherlock, stop,” he says, catching Sherlock’s wrist and Sherlock looks confused, then swiftly annoyed before twisting off the bed and out of the room.
Mycroft is twenty-two and off in the world, extending the radius of his education, though he rarely pays attention anymore. He is climbing a ladder most people can’t even perceive. He writes letters to Sherlock, details of the day, random puzzles and mysteries and brainteasers, blueprints for complex networks and modifications for the steam engine they’ve been rebuilding for the past ten years. Sherlock writes back, sporadically, and always in code. A new code every time with demands to know how long it takes Mycroft to crack it.
He daydreams about Sherlock, the other half of his brain, and suddenly realises what’s been missing all this time. He thought the blank space was in his skull.
Sherlock is fifteen and the world is defective and he could fix it, but what’s the use, some idiot will just come along and pick at the seams until it frays yet again. Amateurs. Plebeians. Amoebas. Planarians.
He doesn’t understand how people live and breathe without a single thought in their heads; how can they walk around so brazenly stupid, like donkeys on their way to market.
Nothing makes sense anymore; it hasn’t since Mycroft left, and the house is big and it echoes. He spends his free time making sure the house is noisy until he reaches a boiling point and can’t take it, then everything puts him off.
He runs away from home and spends a week living in some town (he didn’t take the time to learn the name, what does it matter), in an alley, stealing food from the kitchen of a French restaurant and his grandmere’s French comes in handy when a sous chef catches him red-handed. Tearing off a hunk of bread, he remembers speaking French with Mycroft, scattering in English whenever he felt like it and watching Mycroft frown in affected annoyance.
Then Mycroft appears, out of thin air, like a summoned genie and he recognises this brother now since Sherlock’s grown to catch up with him (he will always catch Mycroft, always). Mycroft can find him, regardless of the circumstances, Mycroft never fails to find him; their mother calls him a homing pigeon and Sherlock would tease Mycroft about iron filings in his nose, attuned to Sherlock like a magnet. The joke went over about as well as any jokes about Mycroft’s weight, but the pigeon thing has a whiff of truth to it Sherlock steers clear of, so he doesn’t use the joke often.
Mycroft manhandles him into a car and forgets to let go of Sherlock once they’re installed and moving along the road.
“If you wanted my attention, Sherlock, there are easier ways to go about obtaining it,” his brother says, stiffly, as if he’s uncertain about something and Sherlock smirks.
“Not everything is about you, Mycroft,” he says, but it’s an ashy lie in his mouth and Sherlock is briefly overwhelmed, like an out-of-body experience: he only has Mycroft, no one else.
He thinks Mycroft says something, a usual cutting retort they’ve been whetting on each other since they discovered polysyllabic words, but he doesn’t catch it, so he says, “How’s the big bad world out there? Discovered any new bakeries? Formulated any new cake recipes?”
Mycroft’s eyes narrow, like his but darker, and then his mouth curves into a dark smile. “Don’t you have small vertebrate mammals to torture?”
And somehow, that hurts more than most, more than the squeeze of Mycroft’s fingers on his arm, almost as much as when Mycroft left. He tries to jerk out of the tight grasp, but Mycroft doesn’t let go and when he finally deigns to look at his brother, Mycroft’s gaze is pained.
“I. I didn’t—“
Sherlock waves his free hand and stares out the window. Mycroft lets go and then threads their fingers together, like when Sherlock was four and they went to the fairgrounds and Sherlock wasn’t worried about getting lost, but Mycroft was.
He can’t breathe. Their palms press together and Sherlock can’t breathe. There is a rush to his head, like when the kaleidoscope falls together and his insight is perfect and he doesn’t have to look to hit the bullseye.
Sherlock is sixteen and Mycroft is twenty-three and Sherlock feels himself settling into his skin. He’s whippet-thin and he doesn’t care, he’s learned to move quickly and efficiently in this body and it hasn’t failed him yet, except the time he crawled over the ancient stone wall and sprained his ankle when he landed, and the time he bruised his ribs on the school gate, and the time he came home with a black eye. His bloodstream thrums with hormones and he knows what’s happening and he dismisses it; he takes care of himself, bringing himself off, and is grateful no one ever tried to explain this to him, not even Mycroft, because the menacing ostracism at school is bad enough, he doesn’t need awkward humiliation on top of it simply because he’s passing through a natural stage, just like everybody else, even Mycroft.
He doesn’t have the patience for this, he just wants it over with so he can move on. The slip of water over his body is distracting now; the movement of his clothes along his skin is distracting now; the carefully reckless lines of Mycroft and how he says Sherlock’s name are distracting now – Sherlock’s heart locks between one beat and the next.
It flashes to him: sitting on his bed, naming the foot bones of his brother and the look on his face when he grabbed Sherlock and said, Stop it, Sherlock, stop.
He watches Mycroft as much as he can, whenever he’s in the house, which is more lately, as he settles into whatever government position he has (and Sherlock takes to digging through his papers, his phone, his computer, to discover Mycroft is slowly taking over the world). He watches and watches and watches and yes, Mycroft is slowly taking over the world.
All of Sherlock’s world.
He catches Mycroft watching back, though their gazes slide away like oil, and Sherlock decides to conduct an experiment. It will have far-reaching results and he needs the rush again, on a grander scale, the same as their palms clasped together in tense, silent acknowledgement. But he doesn’t know how to go about it; coquetry is for one-night stands and meaningless assignations and the primitive way the populace goes about working for a snog, or a shag, or just to pass the time. Not that Sherlock doesn’t find sex pleasurable; he can count on one hand the number of times, with both sexes, but he knows what he likes and he takes it when it’s offered.
This is wholly new, the sense memory of their wrists brushing their pulses against each other.
He dreams of Mycroft. And Mycroft says his name in his sleep when Sherlock is sneaking through the hallway at night because he woke, aching and sticky, and he couldn’t quiet himself down enough to pass out again. He goes into the garden and plays Mendelssohn and loses the rest of the universe until Mycroft appears to bring him indoors as the sun is burning the horizon.
Mycroft looks as sleepless as he is. They’re both sleepless for days on end.
Running his fingertips over Mycroft’s shoulder, he shows him the revised blueprints for the steam engine, now with added balance and limbs for wings so maybe it will achieve lift, and Mycroft shivers under his hand. He takes a step back and Sherlock unconsciously follows him and Mycroft says, “Don’t. Please.”
His voice cracks between the two words as if they’re paragraphs and Sherlock reads between the lines.
This is monumental. Mycroft is the other side of his intellect; all his genetics and blood and bone and the more controlled half of him contained in the form of his brother. The lightning rod.
The house is big, but it doesn’t echo anymore; there’s a thickness to the air, a gathering storm, and Sherlock feels it like humidity, sticking to him like sweat.
Some day, the storm will break.
The thick slide of waiting puts him in a strop because things are still on the blink and he doesn’t know how to fix them. He’s working through it, turning it in his head like an unknown object, learning its spatial relationships and Mycroft gives him a wide berth, allowing him to think.
Sherlock finds the furcula on his pillow again the next time Mycroft leaves. He wants to snap the bone, demand the wish, and calculate their momentum over their timeline, because this is fast pulling at his center of gravity and he can’t see where they’re going.
But it’s brilliant, it’s exciting. Sherlock is intoxicated with possibilities and tangents and variables, but he returns to a single theorem: how he and Mycroft are equals, halves making a whole, no integrals required.
No one else is like them.
There is only them, together.
And he wants it.
It’s becoming impossible. Sherlock is alight in such a way Mycroft can only look at him for a few seconds at a time, and Mycroft seems dizzingly out of reach to Sherlock though they’re sitting next to each other at the dinner table, near enough their knees touch occasionally; they sit across from each other in the library, almost crossing their ankles together; they walk in London in a kitty-corner fashion, one pulling the other along by an invisible chain.
Sherlock is seventeen and his mind won’t be quiet and neither will his blood, it’s fucking keeping him awake at night, so he gives up on sleep for the foreseeable future; he might miss something anyway, and he’s only waiting for Mycroft to step too close to him.
Mycroft is twenty-four and should know better, he’s known better since before Sherlock was born, and oh, bloody hell, he remembers the tiny hand wrapping around his finger and now, fuck, he stares at the long fingers, images of them molding around him through his trousers, in some darkened corner where they can’t get undressed and Sherlock would make too much noise, he’s forever made too much noise, even when he was sitting still.
It’s becoming untenable and Sherlock is always demanding, will never stop demanding because he's the little brother, he expects to get it, he expects everything to be taken care of, regardless of the fact it won't present a challenge, he'll demand and then sulk and then complicate it until it is a challenge. Sherlock hasn’t said a word, not a sodding peep, and yet he demands, sprawled on Mycroft’s bed with a book balanced on his stomach, his free hand caught in his hair.
He’s on Mycroft’s bed. He falls asleep there and Mycroft is left with no alternative but to sleep in Sherlock’s because damn him if he’s going to sleep in his own bed with Sherlock there.
He almost can’t breathe and it’s possible he passes out from lack of oxygen, his lungs taken up with the smell of Sherlock and the faint undercurrents of sweat and sex in the sheets.
It’s there in Mycroft’s eyes, how he brings his hands together, how he’s taken to wearing three-piece suits as if layers will stop Sherlock. Hardly anything stops Sherlock. His brother should know better, and Sherlock laughs to himself.
In Sherlock’s messy, too-fast handwriting, is scrawled a series of chemical equations he has to reduce to a single compound, snap apart the components, identify the catalyst.
He refuses to see their present situation in the formulations on the paper.
He copied it from Mycroft, who dictated it to him, another in a string of puzzles from the big brother to the little brother to keep them both happy and for some reason, Sherlock gets stuck as their mother prepares for a fundraising garden party or some such nonsense.
There’s nothing but noise noise noise noise noise, inside outside, it’s in his brain and shifting every rail of thought he has, like a devastating earthquake, and he can’t take it, he can’t concentrate, he can’t think. If he can’t think, he doesn’t exist and if this is madness, Sherlock is falling headlong. He covers his ears, hunkering in his room, knees drawn to his chest, and his breath is inside his head, rattling around in his skull, he can’t think he can’t think he can’t think. A simple fucking equation, something to finish for Mycroft, like those card tricks he learned to do when he was twelve: shuffle, cut the deck, flip the cards, shuffle, track the aces, marry the kings and queens, banish the jacks, slit the hearts and bury the spades, he wanted to fucking impress his brother and it was stupid. For some reason, the world has decided to hinge upon this one thing, balancing uneasy on this fulcrum and Sherlock will lose if it falls.
Mycroft finds him, curled in a tight ball as the night closes in, the lights from the garden glowing up disjointedly into the windows like long-ago broken glass.
“Sherlock. Sherlock.” He grabs his little brother’s wrists (like bird bones), pulling so he can see Sherlock’s face, look him in the eye. He kneels like when Sherlock was younger and Mycroft still had something to teach.
“I can’t figure it out, I can see it,” Sherlock says, “it’s there, I know it’s there, Mycroft, but it won’t coalesce, I can’t make the pieces fit together,” a sinful confession, his expression miserable and his pupils dilated, as if he can see something beyond Mycroft. They’re poised like that for a moment, then he tilts in Mycroft’s grasp and kisses him.
And Mycroft opens for Sherlock with a sound that strikes them both clean.
They are equals, fighting for dominance until Mycroft finally presses Sherlock in the mattress and Sherlock doesn’t capitulate so much as offer his throat with an indignant noise, his fingers holding his brother right where he wants him.
For once, Mycroft is dressed down and Sherlock is in his usual loose teenage jeans and big t-shirt, but they’re going too fast to think about going slow. They don’t make it out of their clothes.
The lights outside the window seem to flare every time they blink and Sherlock bites Mycroft, teeth sinking into his lip.
“You’re bleeding,” he says, voice shot darker and Mycroft smirks, eyes narrowed before smearing his mouth along Sherlock’s cheekbone, as if Mycroft’s been cut by Sherlock’s face.
Sherlock thinks, My territory, and Mycroft reads his mind, as usual.
“It’s your fault,” Mycroft replies, “always have to leave a mark, don’t you.”
They’re both overly possessive of their things. The natural extension has been to each other, ever since Sherlock was a baby.
They’ve found the other half of their skulls.
Mycroft bites him on the neck, hard, with intent to bruise and Sherlock gasps under the sting and pull of his blood coming up under the skin.
They don’t stop kissing (possessive, constantly). They’re pushing clothes out the way, no barriers, but it’s too fast, too fast, happening simultaneously, endless pushes of friction and their hearts are collapsing in on themselves and Sherlock intones, “Now.”
And he gets it.
They’re sweaty and sticky and Mycroft cleans them with Sherlock’s shirt, then he climbs off the bed in the jumbles of his clothes and Sherlock panics, mouthing, no, no no no no, no. His mind is jittering and all he can think is Mycroft is leaving again, after all this, with the wind-like murmurings of the party down below.
But Mycroft locks the door and braces himself against it, sliding to the floor, as if his messy clothes are dragging him down.
Mycroft is twenty-four and Sherlock is seventeen and Mycroft watches as Sherlock untangles from the rest of his clothes with his unconscious, easy grace, his naked limbs fluid like the rest of him as he straddles Mycroft, their thighs aligning.
Forehead to forehead, they can only see each other cross-eyed.
Mycroft says, “What did we do, Sherlock.”
Sherlock shakes his head, their dark hair mixing together and his brother’s eyes are like his, but a different shade.
“What do we do, Mycroft,” he corrects, fingers spread wide on Mycroft’s chest like he’s imitating his ribs, and Mycroft remembers the night, Sherlock saying, I’ve been saving this for you.
They go back to bed, sprawling entangled, Sherlock half-underneath Mycroft in some sort of temporary accord. They take what they want, indulgent, their minds going blissfully blank for the first time in their lives. They’ve both done this before but not with each other and it hasn’t been like this for either of them.
It’s two in the morning and Mycroft wakes as Sherlock scribbles between his shoulder blades, using the edges of his scapulas as boundaries to contain the chemical equations.
He writes the solution on Mycroft’s spine. It takes him fifteen minutes.
“I knew you’d suss it out,” Mycroft says. “Eventually.”
Sherlock scoffs. “Do you think you’ll ever stop pointing out the obvious.”
Mycroft doesn’t tell him they’ve become impossible.
[IIb. variable-mass systems.]
They stay quiet. They smell like each other and everyone else is too blind to notice.
Mycroft prepares to leave again. He’s abandoning his flat for an actual house and he tells the dark head resting on his stomach, “I’ll have a room for you.”
Sherlock shifts to look at him, unblinking, and says, “Not yours.”
Possessive to the core, and Mycroft smiles begrudgingly. “Not mine. You can’t just live in my room, Sherlock, you know that.”
He does; it’s logical, apparently, it’s even required due to societal norms and regulations (“law, Sherlock, the law”), a lot of claptrap as far as he’s concerned. It’s still his territory and he’ll conquer it, their two rooms in Mycroft’s new mystery house adjoined like tracts of land.
They aren’t overly affectionate in public or in the various open rooms of the house; they’re too busy teaching each other about each other in subtle ways. In private, it’s almost not affectionate, more like payment of tribute, to the victor go the spoils. Mycroft doesn’t use his words; Sherlock can’t.
Mycroft disappears back to the government, “like an overdressed, jumped-up Mary Poppins,” Sherlock says, but he disappears with the faint scrubbed-at smudges of Sherlock’s handwriting on his skin.
Sherlock goes to uni, not quite kicking and screaming, with one of Mycroft’s ties in his luggage. He remembers their autopsies of the other people crossing in the hallways.
Their paths diverge.
Sherlock is bored. Just about out of his mind, if he could escape it. He has to get his kicks somehow and he starts taking it out on the people around him. He cracks open their secrets like eggs. He tells them how drunk they got at that moronic party the night before, who they shagged, and why. He knows who’s cheating on their partners and who’s cheating on exams and who’s taking drugs and who’s there at school taking the mickey, wasting time and money.
Like he is.
He’s eighteen, he’s nineteen, he’s passing through these hallways like a gargoyle because he’s discovering he possibly doesn’t want to fucking be here.
Sebastian is a friend because he talked to Sherlock and can moderately keep up with Sherlock’s verbose wildfire, and he isn’t a friend because he’s a proper bastard no matter how you turn him. Sherlock prefers to call him an acquaintance, though he doesn’t inform Seb of this editing of his label.
He misses Mycroft, though he’d cut out his tongue to say so. No one else matches Sherlock. He starts missing patches of time where he’s thinking of the night of their mother’s party where someone got so drunk they fell into a hedgerow and Sherlock slept with his brother.
Mycroft emails him because Sherlock is too impatient for the post and Sherlock reads more than he replies. He doesn’t know what to say. He sends Mycroft mathematical word problems, the atomic structure of certain poisons, the newest version of their steam engine’s blueprints. Mycroft writes what he always has: normal things embedded with their own brand of razor humour.
Sherlock dissects his philosophy teacher. Mycroft responds with a philosophical question, because is Sherlock really dissecting his teacher for being an overstuffed pompous wanker, or is he dissecting the populace at large, or is he dissecting philosophy as embodied by a person, and it becomes a debate, spanning two months.
They didn’t talk about anything after the crash of their bodies and minds, they didn’t set boundaries or make demands, which leaves Sherlock somewhat adrift. He likes to know the rules so he can see to break them, how far he can go beyond them. But Mycroft is once again out of reach.
And Sherlock is going out of his mind, to the hammering measures of Stravinsky, he is bored and there is nothing for it, he’s bored and he’s losing his brother again.
Everything is smashed and his brain is a morass of colour like finger-painting and when he closes his eyes, there’s nothing there, no use for anything, nothing at all.
A silence has settled between him and Mycroft, and it’s becoming darker. His brother can’t come home during the breaks; they’re constantly passing each other somehow until finally it’s summer and Mycroft appears at the foot of his bed in the middle of the night.
They fuck, rough and too hard, it hurts, both of them unsteady and bruised, and Sherlock’s world is resettling back to the way it should be. They only have about a week together, Mummy so excited to see her two boys under the same roof again, and they plant their bruises where no one will see.
“One day, someone will see,” Sherlock says, “because I want them to see.”
“You just want to play the evil genius. The mad villain who gets away with fuck-all,” Mycroft retorts to the ceiling and the curse is always blacker in his voice, delicious in a startlingly heavy way Sherlock likes; he tries to push Mycroft to curse more and more. “The untouchable mad man on top of his mountain who fucks his brother and gets away with it.”
There’s more to it than that, Sherlock knows, he knows, but he doesn’t understand how to say it, sliding his fingers around Mycroft’s throat and squeezing lightly until Mycroft gasps and closes his eyes, body pliant under Sherlock’s.
Once more unto the breach at uni, and Sherlock really will go mad, cut off his ear, drill into his skull to let his brains leak out because this is fucking boring.
He meets Victor one afternoon and the next day, Sherlock has an email from Mycroft about his “new pal.” It doesn’t do for Mycroft to be jealous, though it certainly rings that way; Mycroft knows, they’ve discussed it, how their skulls suture together, like fontanelles grown closed, so Mycroft shouldn’t be jealous.
But he didn’t set any rules. Mycroft’s rules are the only ones Sherlock recognises even if he ignores them.
Boredom drives Sherlock into a passing sexual relationship with Victor. Boredom drives Sherlock to morphine, which slows his mind so much, he counts his heartbeats and hears verses of Beowulf in each pulse.
He likes smoking, the nicotine giving his thoughts an extra zing, an expressive burst of energy like firing synapses. He likes the chemical exchange of chain-smoking, burning one into another into another, an infinite string of smoke and paper and nicotine.
Then he discovers cocaine.
Sherlock is twenty and he feels dissected by Mycroft, the few times they meet and fall into bed together, the more times they only talk through distance. He is misplaced. Dashing himself against the rocks is much more entertaining than anything else he can find.
The cocaine slips into his veins like a song. His brain goes focused-quiet and maybe this is what it was like for the bird when it broke its neck. His thoughts burst like seedpods and he can stop them, observe them, rearrange them as he likes. One minute he’s alive, the next he’s dead, then he’s alive and the window opens up, he sees so much space, his brain goes offline and he can see the kaleidoscope reflected over and over.
He works so much faster this way.
Sherlock is twenty and high and alone. He can run.
Mycroft watches his brother. Sherlock is somehow muffled at uni, pressed down and buttoned and it’s painful to see.
He’s busy building; he needs walls to put Sherlock behind, he needs fortresses so if he ever has to, Mycroft can shield Sherlock from whatever’s coming because he knows his brother: he is the British spitfire, wheeling in the sky, doling death from above. Sherlock is almost as dangerous as he is, and Sherlock actually applies himself, chasing everything he can.
His energy supply seems inexhaustible, like when he was three, four, five, the lightning streaking around the house. Mycroft is still the thunder, though further removed, spinning in the clouds.
And it’s fucking breaking him.
He’s had Sherlock, and vice versa, they’ve enjoyed each other in indescribable ways; his brother is the most exquisite thing he’s ever seen and he’ll cut his tongue out before he ever says it. He should’ve known; for all their prognostication and seeming prestidigitation, they should’ve seen it coming from a long ways off.
Like an omen.
Sherlock sees a falling star and has to know where it came from, the distance it traveled, its beginning trajectory and how that deteriorated to its final trajectory due to velocity and loss of mass and the forces working against it, what it’s made of, where it landed, and how long it took to get here. He’s like a rocket burning fuel, as fast as he can, but as their separation grows, Mycroft notices he’s burning faster and faster and faster and eventually, he might bloody well use himself up.
He’s losing whatever grasp he had on Sherlock as his little brother falls into boredom because he isn’t like Mycroft, he’s never had to entertain himself, Mycroft was always there to keep him going, turn his key and let him loose.
Sherlock’s brain might as well be eating itself and Mycroft’s set to eat his own heart.
Sherlock has almost no friends and doesn’t want any; he alienates the people around him, unintentionally and on purpose, because he doesn’t bloody care, he never has and he never will and Mycroft has always cradled that gift because it is so rare. That Sebastian character is a prat and a half, and Sherlock steers clear of him after awhile, but then Victor appears and it’s a passing fancy, but Mycroft is uncomfortable.
He’s jealous and he’s furious about it and it doesn’t get better when their mother calls to say Sherlock’s at the house, talking a mile a minute and he set fire to the gardeners’ shed.
Mycroft rushes to the house, not because of the fire, he expects nothing less from Sherlock, his over-the-top dramatics only seem to pull Mycroft in more even as he’s fucking well angry about them.
There’s nothing for it but to let the fire burn and there’s nothing for it but for Sherlock to nose along Mycroft’s jaw, his fingers holding Mycroft’s wrists like manacles and he says, “You left.”
He knows what Sherlock means, this awkward chasm between them they both hate and it turns their spite into ever-sharper blades. Then Sherlock kisses him and it’s so gentle, shocking, they don’t say a word, just lock Mycroft’s door, the smell of smoke in their hair and Sherlock leaves streaks of ash on Mycroft’s body.
It’s unlike them, new, fascinating like a Fabergé egg, and Mycroft is in love with his brother, every infuriating, flint-spark piece of him, Sherlock is the side of Mycroft that speaks of their shared impulses and fuel on fire and unbounded, persistent intellect; by being together, they’re burning in a daredevil arc, a slowly glowing parabola bending everything around them.
Sherlock is in love with Mycroft, but he knows Sherlock doesn’t understand how to say it, especially when he wakes to find Sherlock teetering on the edge of the mattress, his irises almost completely swallowed by his pupils.
Mycroft ignores the tiny pinprick of blood in the dip of Sherlock’s elbow and wraps him in a blanket, listening as Sherlock solves local scandals and crimes in the air, using his hands to write everything down invisibly.
His brother is more than functional while high, he’s exceedingly brilliant, but Mycroft despises when Sherlock comes down and glances around and says, “Oh.”
As if he’s come back from somewhere Mycroft can’t go.
He dresses Sherlock, forces him to eat, all but funnels tea down his throat and only lets him touch Mycroft if he’s sober.
The shed is rebuilt. Sherlock drops out of uni. And Mycroft has to go somewhere Sherlock refuses to follow him.
Mycroft is twenty-seven and Sherlock is twenty and one afternoon when it’s pissing down rain, Sherlock finally builds their steam engine flying machine, letting it loose in the library. It flies until it runs out of steam and comes to a stop against the closed door of their father’s office.
Picking the lock, Sherlock drags him inside, shoves him against the desk and opens Mycroft’s trousers with his swift fingers.
His eyes are clear, the solemn greybluegreen Mycroft has always loved.
The house is big and it echoes. So Sherlock runs.
Sherlock is twenty-one and Mycroft is twenty-eight and Sherlock jumps feet-first into London. He’s loved London for as long as he can remember; Mycroft used to carry him or hold his hand due to all the people, but Sherlock just wanted to run all over the pavement, everywhere he could, all the metal and glass and brick. London reminds him sometimes of when he presses in on a solution, how his mind flares into shifting sharp chiaroscuros and then he knows.
He knows London. Every street, every corner, Mycroft would unfold maps for him in the windowed conservatory at home and Sherlock would memorise them, dragging his finger over the names as if he could claim them. Some of his favourite puzzles were Mycroft’s word problems: if you start at Location A and want to get to Location G, what’s the quickest route with the least amount of stops or turns; you have to get from Alpha to Beta using only left turns; if one person starts at Location ∂ and another person starts at Location µ, and both are headed to Location φ, how many times will they intersect over the course of many paths…
London is his and somewhere in his city, Mycroft sits and Sherlock has the address, he just hasn’t been there. Crossing the threshold into Mycroft’s exclusive territory, Sherlock would be giving himself to his brother in ways he hasn’t yet and he wants to, he needs to, his blood won’t let him fucking be until he does, but not yet, not yet, he wants to be off on his own.
Sherlock is twenty-one and he is alone. He gets a ratty flat and promptly demolishes it until it’s suitable to his tastes and he only has two suitcases. The tie he pilfered from Mycroft unfolds from one of his shirts, the button-downs he’s taken to wearing because they make him slow down, focusing on each button, the little tedious tasks helping him think better. Mycroft doodles when he’s thinking; Sherlock walks and talks and waves his hands and draws and plays the violin and stares at the ceiling and destroys property and buttons his shirts when he’s thinking.
He’s still thinking of his brother though this is his time, he can sense it, this is him giving Mycroft a wide berth instead of the other way round because he wants his brother like a mighty unholy addiction, Mycroft is interrupting his thought processes and Sherlock forgets how to eat and some days goes through periods of aphasia.
He can’t remember simple words without his brother.
It’s becoming impossible.
Cocaine doesn’t replace Mycroft. To his utter fucking disgust, cocaine sometimes pushes Sherlock’s absolute dependence on Mycroft to the forefront and Sherlock runs the streets to deplete it from his blood and memory.
He walks London while high and sees the golden ratio everywhere. He sits in cafes with a coffee in front of him, smoking, the nicotine and cocaine swirling spicy in his veins, and he silently reduces peoples’ lives to nothing but trails of detritus: gum wrappers and high heels; cheap necklaces and garish lipstick; boot laces and stains on shirts and the untidy crease in trousers. Such bloody rubbish.
One night after prowling a park in the dark, Sherlock returns to the flat to find a laptop and a cell phone. The smell of Mycroft’s cologne is dying, but it lingers like the days Sherlock doesn’t sleep. His brother, easily invading his dominion, and Sherlock is secretly pleased and annoyed. He fiddles with the laptop and calls Mycroft, the only number in his contacts, and when his brother answers, voice fractured with sleep, he says, “Bees are impossible creatures. They defy physics, Mycroft.”
“That’s a myth, Sherlock, you know that.”
“Dynamic stall,” Sherlock replies, because he does know, “but that’s not the point.”
“Their oscillating aerofoils. So what is the point?”
Sherlock’s forgotten and he doesn’t care and he’s supposed to be separate from Mycroft, but he’s had a new idea for a flying machine, those oscillating aerofoils as Mycroft just said because his brother reads his mind, and he thinks the bees are intelligent, they might tell him things, like how to break the laws of physics.
“Where’s my violin,” he says instead, his fingers itch for the strings of his violin, physics captured in music, and Mycroft follows him without hesitation.
“If you didn’t bring it with you, then it’s still at home. In your room. Unless you left it in mine.”
Their typical exchange about where their belongings are, because sometimes their possessions would become mixed, migrating between their rooms, and Sherlock suddenly thinks he’s left everything in Mycroft’s old room. Everything. He lights a cigarette and says, “Do you have a piano?”
“You would know if you stopped by,” Mycroft says and Sherlock hears the taunt, hears Mycroft’s smile, a small one, a little curl to his mouth.
Sherlock watches the glowing tip of the cigarette and holds the smoke before letting it drop thick and white from between his teeth. He waits a breath, then hangs up. He can feel his pulse in his belly where his hand rests.
The next day, his violin is in the flat and Mycroft’s cologne is in the air again, fading and no one else chases Sherlock’s leaps of logic like Mycroft, their life like endless games of chess finished and replayed before either of them have touched a piece.
He takes to breaking into and stealing things from Bart’s; he likes the building, he finds it architecturally pleasing. A medical hospital, of all the sainted things, so he can mingle with the students and staff, hiding his jaw with a scarf as long as he can get away with it; if he maintains brief eye contact, people will look away in typical societal withdraw. Test tubes, beakers of almost every size, Bunsen burners, small bottles of chemicals, a microscope, various pipettes and he openly walks out with a magnetic mixer and a set of stir bars.
The cocaine completes connections. Sherlock smiles as his brain lights up like a switch thrown on a metropolitan area.
Sherlock is twenty-two and Mycroft is twenty-nine and there’s a note in Mycroft’s precise spiky handwriting pinned to Sherlock’s door: congratulations on the new flatmate. A skull sits placidly on his chemical-stained sofa and Sherlock smirks as he jots down an address on his palm and gets a taxi.
The exterior of Mycroft’s domain is unassuming, nice and posh, but somewhat blank and Sherlock grins because the spider doesn’t want to telegraph any hazards to the unsuspecting flies. He’s still grinning when the door opens and Mycroft’s there, a spider recognising a spider.
Mycroft doesn’t say anything as Sherlock steps over the threshold, just shuts the door, enclosing them in a bubble. They stand there and watch each other, Sherlock narrowing his eyes. Mycroft’s the same and older, simultaneously, as if he’s gone and learned magic.
Then his brother says his name and Sherlock takes his wrist.
There’s no warning in Mycroft’s eyes and the house is quiet, no presence besides theirs, so when Mycroft pulls, Sherlock goes.
They make it to the bedroom without bodily harm and Mycroft’s murmuring against Sherlock’s naked shoulder, but he can’t hear what his brother’s saying. He isn’t sure he wants to.
He shouldn’t miss anyone this much. It’s better and worse than the cocaine.
“The skull is yours,” Mycroft says later, half-muffled by his pillow. “So you won’t have to steal one from Bart’s.”
“I gathered as much.” He has a leg pinning Mycroft to the bed and a bruise throbbing hotly on his clavicle and under his palm, he can feel Mycroft’s pulse in his belly. “I’m not naming him Yorick.”
“That would be garish and blasphemous,” Mycroft agrees and his fingers stroke along Sherlock’s spine. “Sacrilege.” When Sherlock reaches over him, bodies sliding warm, Mycroft’s hand slips into Sherlock’s hair as Sherlock roots around in the nightstand drawer. He knows there’s cigarettes; he’s given up being surprised Mycroft knows some of his open secrets; he can still be angry and he can still keep secrets and Mycroft is still taking over the world.
They share a cigarette, though Mycroft doesn’t particularly like them, and Sherlock is resettling again in his skin, just as he was getting used to jittering out of it. He pushes out of bed, away from Mycroft and heads to the shower. The slip of water over his body is distracting; the movement of his clothes along his skin is distracting; the carefully reckless lines of Mycroft and how he says Sherlock’s name are distracting – Sherlock’s heart locks between one beat and the next.
Mycroft knows the day Sherlock arrives in London. It’s almost preternatural, but in reality, it’s a surveillance memo, detailing his brother’s movements.
He has to wait. If you push Sherlock, he instinctively pushes back, without warning or judgement or thought of consequence. And Mycroft is the other face on this coin; when Sherlock pushes, he pushes back, with full cognisance of what he’s doing.
They push and bounce off each other, ricocheting at alarming speeds, but so far, they haven’t hit any major arteries, torn any major organs.
It’s becoming melodramatic and Mycroft’s turning maudlin.
He watches Sherlock dive into London as if he’s an amnesiac regaining all his memories. He watches his brother find a flat and make it his own. He watches Sherlock buy cigarettes and cocaine and tea. He watches his brother walk London’s streets like a dowsing rod.
They both love London almost to distraction, a place as busy as their brains, and Mycroft knows Sherlock wants to learn it intimately, by himself, with that returning streak of independence he somehow mislaid at uni; he wasn’t independent at uni, just lost and alone.
Mycroft has to work, weaving a net of ominous anonymity, and gathering intelligence because the devil’s in the details, what he knows can save him and Sherlock if/when the time comes. He goes to his office and meticulously separates things into danger, dangerous, highly dangerous and does what Sherlock calls “getting fat on state secrets and cake” though he’s not eating as much cake nowadays.
He goes to work and sits at a desk and rummages through files, country names, political titles, emissaries, envoys, city layouts, governmental intrigue, weapons reports while his baby brother is out there testing how long he can stay awake without flinching, how long he can live on biscuits and tea, how long each high takes to dissipate.
How much he can steal and get away with. Mycroft would let him get away with murder, dispose of the bodies, silence the witnesses, though he knows sardonically, Sherlock is too clever to leave witnesses. It’d be an interesting line to cross and Mycroft is cynical, snickering a little behind his desk because the world should be glad he and Sherlock haven’t chosen to take the criminal veil. He dreams of Sherlock, running rampant, like a lithe dark-haired demigod, causing chaos and bringing death as he chooses.
Sherlock does what he wants because he can.
In their silences, they push still, and Mycroft decides to at least slow their opposite trajectories by gifting his brother with technology. Not only can Mycroft keep better tabs on him, but he can contact Sherlock, constantly; the same way Sherlock used to ask questions, Mycroft worries and watches and wants. Rapid-fire.
Sherlock calls him, of course he does, their brains are too much alike to forget each other and it has to happen because Mycroft is looking over nuclear missile plans and seeing Sherlock’s name along every seam and rivet.
The violin is nothing but a necessity. The cigarettes and cocaine and fleecing of Bart’s are recreation.
Mycroft keeping an eye on Sherlock is ingrained.
They push and skate away from each other.
Mycroft is twenty-nine and Sherlock is twenty-two and so Mycroft gives him a skull. He feels foolish doing such a thing because it’s a love letter in their crooked, straying way, and Mycroft takes his time wandering the flat, not touching the little things Sherlock’s left abandoned here and there, as if he’s shedding feathers.
And then Sherlock is at his door, crossing over and there’s nothing to say. They know what the other is thinking, though Mycroft jumps three-four-five steps ahead and sees…something he doesn’t want to, so he shuts his eyes and leads Sherlock along to his bed and his mouth is moving against Sherlock’s skin, but it’s all nonsense, words he doesn’t recognise as himself because Sherlock takes his control and dissolves it effortlessly.
They start meeting, they can, they are brothers, it is a societal norm to be sociable, if not civil with one’s siblings and they both keep odd hours. The norm for the general population at large is a meal, tea, maybe drinks at a pub. Their norm is appearing like shadows in each other’s rooms (Sherlock’s flat, Mycroft’s house, eminent domain) and falling into bed together and waking in the morning to another day, just like the one before.
Sherlock likes to say, “We fuck, Mycroft, we fuck, there’s no other word for it” because they don’t sugarcoat things, but it isn’t dismissive in Sherlock’s voice, the low timbre rich and startling on the hard syllable. He says it before falling asleep in Mycroft’s bed, pressed too close and too hot, limbs long and selfish; Sherlock never knows how to say what he wants, but Mycroft speaks Sherlock’s language better than his mother tongue.
“Mycroft,” Sherlock says, emphasis this time on the fricative ‘f’ in his name, almost like the first time he said it (his first word) and he might be high, Mycroft can’t quite tell yet over the phone. “Mycroft, I’ve solved it.”
“Congratulations. What did you solve,” Mycroft says, tearing paper into little squares at his desk.
“The skull. I’ve solved it.” There’s a faint cheery noise, notes living and dying fast, and he pictures Sherlock holding his violin like a ukulele, fingertips plucking restlessly as he stares out the window because Mycroft might be smarter and stay three moves ahead, but Sherlock sees more than Mycroft will ever know. “It told me.”
And Mycroft’s body goes numb. He doesn’t reply, but Sherlock’s rushing in anyway, water filling the pressure vacuum. “Male, mid- to late twenties, healthy lifestyle, died of something violent though, or possible sudden onset of unforeseen illness. Slight concussion on the temple, most likely childhood trauma, nothing remotely deadly, but it would’ve bled heavily.”
It could be either one of them, or both of them, or them as one.
It’s gone twenty to midnight when there’s a pounding on the door, hard knuckles, and Mycroft throws it open only for Sherlock to collapse into the foyer. He’s soaked to the bone, his clothes showing his bird-like frame, and his teeth chatter like coins shaken in a jar.
“Sherlock, what the fuck did you do!” and Sherlock’s shaking, drenching them and he’s trying to talk, but his tongue keeps sticking on the second syllable of Mycroft’s name. Mycroft kicks the door shut and strips his brother there on the rug, dropping wet clothes as fast as he can and everything smells like old water and fish and mud. He’s rubbing at Sherlock’s skin and Sherlock stops making noise altogether, his hands curled into Mycroft’s arms, clawed, as if he might shake apart.
Warm him up slowly, but get rid of the cold fast, and Mycroft is calm, his brain losing colour and Sherlock becomes nothing but black and white, dark fall of hair and fragile white body and his body’s giving off cold like glass.
He turns on the shower one-handed because Sherlock won’t let go of him and then he gets his brother under the stream (warm him up slowly), lukewarm, then warmer, then warmer. But Sherlock doesn’t let go and Mycroft is dragged in with him and he’s watching Sherlock’s breaths, counting the skittish pulse in his neck.
His pupils are dilated, but starting to shrink; Sherlock’s coming down and Mycroft won’t let him crash.
“I fell,” Sherlock says mulishly when he rediscovers speech.
“Into a random body of water.”
“Into the Thames.”
“Because it was there?” Mycroft demands, almost shouting, fucking irritated beyond belief, and he’s afraid and angry about it, the same as being jealous and angry about it, but this is a hundred times worse.
Sherlock makes a vague answer about river samples and testing, but Mycroft wonders if maybe he was blazing along on cocaine and the city laid bare at night was too much of a draw, the Thames at his feet and gravity just another experiment.
They stand under the spray, and the adrenaline is leaving Mycroft; he’s coming down and he can’t crash because he can’t let Sherlock crash. He rests his head against Sherlock’s and they sway until Sherlock spreads a hand against the shower wall to center them. He holds onto Mycroft, clawed, as if they’ve had a collision.
One afternoon, Mycroft comes home to find Sherlock waiting for him, sprawled on his sofa, scowling vehemently at the telly. He watches Mycroft eat, drinking his way through three cups of tea, and they play a card game they invented, though Sherlock purposefully cheats and Mycroft still wins. He has his violin with him, drawing out Chopin, slow and mournful, a nocturne, and Mycroft listens, sees him thinking through something with fine presses of his fingers and turns of his wrist.
Before he leaves, Sherlock says, “Westermarck had it wrong,” a lazy smirk on his face and Mycroft laughs.
They’re drifting, together, apart, together, apart. They’ve slept together (Sherlock continuously arguing with him) forty-seven times in the last ninety days and they haven’t kissed on the mouth twenty-six times in the last ninety days.
There’s a ring of teeth imprints on Mycroft’s thigh and a spate of bites along Sherlock’s ribs.
If Sherlock pushes on Mycroft, then Mycroft is in return pushing on Sherlock, whether he wants to or not, and they’re drifting, like insensate people pulled by the tide.
Sherlock’s phone was ruined with his dramatic dip in the Thames, so Mycroft delivers him a new one, all the fancy bells and whistles enabled.
Mycroft’s phone buzzes at work with a text from Sherlock.
It takes two to make an accident.
He smiles despite himself, almost meanly, and immediately feels flippant, ready to needle his little brother.
Good to see you’re reading again. Mummy will be pleased. A bit more acceptable than drug use.
Sherlock feels feverish. It is entirely possible he is running a fever, but right now, he soaks in the wide-eyed, hot, drunken feeling of his skin prickling and light swimming towards him like little fish.
Sherlock is turning twenty-three and Mycroft is thirty and Sherlock just set fire to the sofa. He rescued the skull first, holding it sightless on his hip, fingertips caressing its teeth while he watched the flames begin to creep along the cushions at a rather disappointingly slow rate of consumption. They don’t make furniture like they used to, overly prone to flammability. He tuts and settles the skull in the crook of his arm like a baby, then the smoke is becoming too thick, so Sherlock calls a halt to the proceedings.
To air out the room, he throws open the windows to the cold winter air and plays the smoke its way outside.
He feels feverish and somewhat dull, the last few months have been boring, worse than uni when he felt like a huge seal had been put on the world, keeping everything in and his brain, he could feel his brain going still, like a stagnant pond.
He smiles at the shining syringe and as the drug enters his bloodstream, he closes his eyes and self-diagnoses from the DSM-IV: “sociopath,” though the term is rendered obsolete for the much richer, multifaceted-sounding “antisocial personality disorder.”
He likes the taste of it. It only seems right he should ring in his birthday with a psychological evaluation, even though Mycroft has fought long and hard that neither of them should be analysed, a fight Mummy started on Sherlock’s behalf when he was three and Mycroft carried the banner on into adulthood.
Mycroft isn’t worried about their secrets; Sherlock thinks he’s worried about their minds being vivisected by someone who wouldn’t understand the bleeding, glistening sections they’d hold in their hands, or worse, someone who didn’t even know what to do with the tools.
He has to tell Mycroft about his diagnosis.
So tonight, just after half past three, Mycroft doesn’t answer, not after Sherlock calls three times, four, five, six and temporarily defeated, Sherlock slams the window closed and the door to his flat opens as if forced by a pressure shift.
“Sherlock, I’d prefer it if you didn’t burn the building down,” Mycroft says, avoiding the creaking floorboard by the threshold, “I’d have to take it out of your allowance and explain the undue destruction of city property to Mummy. This is much bigger than a tool shed.”
Sherlock scowls and it disrupts the feverish silver shooting through him. “The shed had it coming. The gardeners were waiting for it to fall down and I merely sped up the process.”
“Your humanitarian work is astonishing.” Mycroft smiles because Sherlock did it in a fit of pique and boredom, and this is nothing different: Mycroft knows what Sherlock knows and it’s paradoxical, concurrently insufferable and intoxicating.
“So many problems can be solved with the proper application of fire.”
“You aren’t a sociopath,” his brother says in reply, exasperated.
He can almost see the glistering words, working into his skin and he narrows his eyes as Mycroft smoothly dodges around Sherlock to the book and traces over the text with his finger.
“Sociopath,” Sherlock repeats, but Mycroft doesn’t answer. “Mycroft.” It’s disturbing when he doesn’t have Mycroft’s attention, so he tears the page out from under Mycroft’s hand and Mycroft hisses.
Paper cut across the meat of Mycroft’s thumb, and they watch the blood oozing up as he squeezes the wound to clean it, then Sherlock flops down on the floor, folding in his limbs, cross with his brother for being here after he didn’t see fit to answer his bloody phone. He grabs the skull, balancing it on his knee, like a head on a pike, a warning to all the others.
“Don’t be idiotic, Sherlock,” Mycroft says absentmindedly, taking off his coat and shoes and oh, it’s going to be one of those nights, Sherlock’s babysitter has come to stay, maybe try to coax Sherlock off the needle and into sleep. And, just so, Mycroft sits down across from him, still holding the diagnosis page in his fingers.
The light darts like little fishes around Mycroft, circling him almost like the choirs of warrior angels in the ancient disquieting woodcuts, and he stares as Mycroft twists to find one of Sherlock’s lab razor blades, cleaning the ragged edges of the page and squaring it. They don’t talk as Mycroft folds the paper, again and again, and it’s hypnotic, Sherlock loves Mycroft’s hands, one of those truths he’s always known, intrinsic.
Mycroft glances up and says, “I might have something for you.”
“I don’t want your missing memorandum problems or cheating ambassadors’ wives,” Sherlock retorts because as much as they help pass the time, they are in and of themselves so fatuous.
“Troop movements. Strategic geographical toeholds,” Mycroft continues as if he hasn’t heard, the paper bending under his fingers, again and again. “You might enjoy it.”
“Like a board game.”
Mycroft opens his hands. A paper crane, covered in text about Sherlock’s personality disorder of choice and Sherlock has to move the skull to take it from him. Tiny smear of blood on the crane’s wing, Mycroft’s cut still bleeding and Sherlock licks the wound with the flat of his tongue, the light swimming brighter.
“Happy birthday,” Mycroft says and kisses Sherlock and Sherlock wants to give his fever to his brother, so he drags him closer, his skin prickling everywhere he touches Mycroft.
Sherlock doesn’t sleep, but Mycroft does, curled next to Sherlock on his mattress thrown on the floor of the bedroom. He watches Mycroft’s rib cage expand and contract, oxygen converting to carbon dioxide, his brother consisting of the same genetic material, creating his organs and bones and muscles and tendons. His hair. His mouth. It’s a spectacular marvel Sherlock wants to unravel, strand by strand, and he’s drawing helixes on Mycroft’s chest and Punnett squares and this is one of those things he might never understand, this person made of him, possibly for him.
It’s going to break him down one day, an unsolvable problem.
He throws the pen against the wall, leaving a thin juddering streak and when he reaches around for his clothes, he catches Mycroft awake.
His eyes (like Sherlock’s but bluer).
Then days later, there’s something dark creeping at the edges of his vision, sly and coy, and he doesn’t notice it completely until it’s sunk its teeth into his brain, its tongue winding around him until he can’t talk or swallow. Everything becomes colourless and drab, the tedium of the hours, there’s nothing in the world out there for Sherlock. It’s all standing water and the putrid smell is getting worse.
Sometime in the year, Sherlock loses eight months like pocket change.
He wakes one morning, brushing the light fishes away from his sight. The skull is staring at him from the pillow next to him with its stupidly unflappable grin and it takes him four days to piece eight months back together. He smokes through them all.
He remembers the oppressive boredom and the disheartening idea he might be losing his mind, literally and figuratively and in every –ly way possible, and the crushing weight fell on him as if from a murderous height.
He remembers snarling at Mycroft because his brother, the bloody git, didn’t understand, he usually reads Sherlock’s mind, but this was different, there wasn’t any noise, none, he couldn’t hear his breathing, he couldn’t feel his heart where it grows roots and tendril vines in his body, he couldn’t taste anything, he’d bitten his tongue twice. His synapses were firing with nowhere to go and their fires were snuffed out. Mycroft grasped his arm and Sherlock jerked, shoving him back hard, talking rapid-fire and loud until he realised Mycroft wasn’t saying anything from where he’d hit the wall, sideways and crooked. He watched in dawning horror and fascination as Mycroft felt around his shoulder with probing fingers, saying quietly, ‘Possible slight dislocation.’ And then his big brother twisted, testing his shoulder joint, grimacing. ‘No, just wrenched it,’ he said. Sherlock felt his chest cavity collapse. Mycroft didn’t use any of his precisely-crafted words. He didn’t say anything else. He brushed a hand through Sherlock’s sweaty hair, kissed him on the forehead, mouth warm, and left.
Ten minutes later, the cocaine slid into Sherlock’s heart via its root system and he let it kick-start him again.
He doesn’t remember Mycroft after that. He remembers the infuriating return of his aphasia.
He remembers new faces, a string of them, a handful, people he met while high, people he shagged, people he left behind like vapour. Experiments in sensory perception. They didn’t matter. They still don’t.
He remembers Bach at one in the afternoon and Mozart (the wanker) at one in the morning and Vivaldi for three whole days.
He remembers chemicals. Cigarettes that weren’t his usual brand. He has two cuts on his shin.
He remembers walking round London at night, during the day, he couldn’t sleep so he walked as if he had unfinished business and every step shuddered through him, mini natural disasters because he could see the centuries of history in the stones. Crazy spray paint artists in their cement gardens with their snap-tilted geometric bands of colour and Mummy had wanted him to be an artist, she loved his paintings, wild splashes of colour he practically threw down in thickly spread drops, but the spray paint artists tried to hustle him, roust him out with their fists and deplorable grammar, so he cut the moronic ones down to size until all that was left were their aerosol cans. The others eyed him suspiciously, as if he’s a copper working some angle, but he merely shrugged, and told them the timing of the police rounds, the beat patterns are so predictable as to be pathetically useless.
Sherlock climbs out of bed because he remembers: a single spray paint can left confidently in front of the door to his flat. Above his bed are painted the words like a patient etherised upon a table in glossy black letters. The words look like they’re melting down the wall in slow drips.
Digging around, he finds the aerosol can under the sofa and on that wall, he’s painted the wingspan dimensions of an owl, a chemical formula he reverse-solves to be nicotine, and the skeletal diagram of a hand with all the bones labeled in biro. He puts his palm flat against the diagram, but he can immediately tell it isn’t his. It’s Mycroft’s.
The words till human voices wake us, and we drown.
He remembers being lonely.
He doesn’t remember when he last ate. He finds a crumpled pack of cigarettes in a pair of jeans and smokes through them. He finds his phone and sends a text.
His brother descends with bags of takeaway and clean clothes.
“Eliot was an excellent choice, though you could’ve gone with something a little less well-known,” Mycroft says. “But that would’ve looked pretentious.” He smirks and it clashes with his tie and waistcoat.
Sherlock snaps his chopsticks irritably. “I thought puppeteering was your forte, Mycroft, not literary criticism. Unless reading everyone’s mail is giving you professorial delusions of grandeur.” He stabs a piece of chicken and Mycroft laughs.
“Welcome back, Sherlock.” His brother crosses the room, neatly avoiding Sherlock’s out-flung feet and he places his hand palm flat on the anatomical lesson on the wall. “Don’t do it again,” he says without looking at Sherlock and all the colour rushes in, like a burst dam.
He needs Mycroft, as much as he hates it, he does, he needs Mycroft, and it’s fucking unacceptable how he wants the full force of Mycroft’s attention and presence turned on him, all the time, no exceptions. He bares his teeth at Mycroft who rolls his eyes as he leaves.
Some of his meager collection of lab equipment is missing. Sherlock thinks he sold them.
Mycroft is thirty and Sherlock is twenty-three and Mycroft’s shoulder aches. He hasn’t expected things were so bad when he gets to Sherlock’s apartment, but his little brother is there, high as the proverbial kite and higher, talking so fast he’s making portmanteaus and there aren’t sentences, just a stream-of-consciousness as Sherlock works his way through the newspaper, dismantling society and its childish problems with his knife-tongue.
It actually fucking scares Mycroft to see Sherlock this way, his hands shaking and his eyes too big in his face and his thoughts are flying so fast behind his gaze, Mycroft thinks he might get himself into a loop he can’t escape.
Unbidden, he hears I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed in his head and in fear, he reaches for his hyperactive brother only for Sherlock to tell him, “It’s different this time, Mycroft, it’s different. There’s nothing, not like last time, there’s fuck-all nothing, don’t you get it? You don’t understand, I need the connections!” He tries to hold onto Sherlock, saying his name again and again, but Sherlock jerks away, shoving for space and Mycroft is too surprised to regain his footing.
The bruise on his shoulder takes almost a month to fade completely. He stays away the whole time, but his shoulder still aches occasionally. He puts a tail on Sherlock and buries himself in his work because he’s realised something.
He doesn’t know what to do with Sherlock and he might make things worse.
He remembers when Sherlock was fifteen and they had to relearn each other as if they’d been struck blind. Mummy called during supper to say Sherlock had gone into the kitchen and started smashing the china. Piece after piece, and Mycroft figured Sherlock was merely conducting experiments, measuring shards and break patterns and falling heights, a small-scale terminal velocity of teacups. He reassured her it’d be all right, Sherlock was being himself and now she could get new china like she’d been saying she wanted for the past few years. He didn’t go home. A week later, Mummy called again to say Sherlock had disappeared.
Sherlock was on the street for another week when Mycroft found him and it was whatever Sherlock wanted it to be: an adventure, an experiment, a way to summon his big brother.
The entire week Sherlock was missing was like hell on earth for Mycroft and he’d learned a lesson then: Sherlock will do what he wants. Mycroft just has to make sure the damage is minimal.
Now he’s hunched at desk, clutching the arrest data for Scotland Yard, from lowlifes on up to big-name bosses and it’s all for the records, more information to be added to columns somewhere, but he catches himself scouring the information for Sherlock’s name.
Week after week, Sherlock is blazing fast and high as a comet and Mycroft waits in his little building-top observatory of an office. Sherlock won’t do anything overly dangerous, his little brother is too self-absorbed in his genius to do that, but he watches still, ready to step in when Sherlock reaches a precipice.
He gets a phone call around five in the morning and when he answers, it’s Debussy, the notes still blue-heavy and lovely over a cell phone and when Sherlock finishes playing, the call clicks off. Sherlock doesn’t call again; Mycroft isn’t sure Sherlock even knows he’s done it.
Mycroft doesn’t sleep much for the next two months.
He works and watches and waits and worries and it’s becoming alarmingly alliterative. Every day, he thinks he’s cracking like Mummy’s china plates must have, dropped from Sherlock’s hands. Sherlock isn’t using every day, just often enough to help the days run together. Mycroft could out-logic Sherlock about his drug use, but Sherlock’s histrionics tend to muddle things until there isn’t any talking Sherlock out of it and he won’t make his brother hate him unless it’s the last thing left, a scorched-earth policy.
Instead, Mycroft sets tails on anyone Sherlock’s met while in his drugged state, to make sure they don’t come back. Sherlock’s shadow reports with a blank face that Sherlock is petulantly careful during any exchange, whatever the level of interaction and Mycroft scowls at all the polite, sterile euphemisms. He quietly goes home after work that day and smashes a few plates, to see what it feels like.
When it reaches a point Sherlock sells his microscope and a beaker set, Mycroft goes to his brother’s flat and starts clearing out the needles and cocaine, bit by bit until one morning, Sherlock wakes relatively clear-headed.
His phone buzzes on his desk.
You’ve somehow managed to change the date, haven’t you, just to upset me.
Yes, it is now 1984 and Big Brother is watching you.
The object of waging a war is always to be in a better position in which to wage another war.
Sherlock smells of cigarettes and sweat and his eyes dart to Mycroft’s shoulder (so he does remember), but Mycroft doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t need to; he’s happy Sherlock’s gaze is clear and his brother is a little ragged, but otherwise himself. The food and clothes help. He stays until Sherlock’s showered, slipped into a pair of jeans and a dark blue button-down, untucked, sleeves rolled up, and is lolling in a chair opening the Chinese takeaway containers. Sherlock’s trying for sulky, but it’s not working because their combined relief is palpable.
His brother has been sober for three weeks. Mycroft watches the sixth repeat viewing of a recorded CCTV feed: some fucking prat steps out of the shadows and robs Sherlock at gunpoint. Sherlock fights back, about to disarm him when the fucking bastard pistol-whips Sherlock with a crack across the face before running off with Sherlock’s wallet.
Sherlock’s installed behind the doors of Mycroft’s home, skulking in his room like a grounded teenager, but Mycroft has put up with Sherlock’s rages in the past, he will do so now, and he’ll continue to do so in the future. Sherlock’s rages are actually a thing of beauty: his insults more inventive and effective, his voice modulated for precision devastation and he paces like a berserker craving bloodshed.
Shutting off the video, Mycroft sighs. He recognised years ago Sherlock somehow attracts violence; it won’t be the last time Sherlock winds up on the wrong end of a weapon.
His little brother’s cheekbone is swollen; there’s an angry cut by his ear from the first contact with the gun; there’s purple and green mottling one half of his face.
Control is an act of will, but this is Sherlock.
Mycroft’s already demanded someone find this bloody moron and once he’s in Mycroft’s possession, he might talk the man into swallowing his tongue. It could be physically possible and Mycroft’s curious to see it happen. It’d be an interesting biological experiment; he could let Sherlock take notes.
But Sherlock beats him this time, tracking down the mugger first. Mycroft intuits Sherlock reduced the man to his singular daily habits and life in those minutes of anger, and then set about finding him with a tenacity usually reserved for finding something entertaining to do or insulting Mycroft. He knows it’s the chase, it’s the chase of something solvable within your grasp, easily obtained because the world is so completely vacuous, and you can see it all laid out in front of you like a stairway to heaven. A challenge. When he gets Sherlock back, Sherlock’s eyes are lit like bonfires. He kisses Mycroft, sweet intense kisses, using his teeth until Mycroft opens for him and it’s been so fucking long for them, they barely make it to Sherlock’s bed and go two rounds like champion prizefighters and Mycroft’s late for work when they go for a third. He leaves Sherlock sleeping, TKO.
Mycroft wants to put in a memorandum how his brother hunted down his own mugger using his own skills and genius and his homeless network around the city, and a fat lot of bloody fucking good Mycroft’s people did; he’s itching to do it out of nettled spite, but he doesn’t because his pride in Sherlock might come across too strong and his department took the whole escapade as a slap in the face anyway.
Sherlock’s network is corralled from those cocaine-fuelled nights learning London on a different level, because Mycroft discovered Sherlock would forget to go home and sleep in doorways. The shadow Mycroft assigned to Sherlock reports a handful of homeless came to respect Sherlock as some sort of mad man living between the two layers of London, seeing the city for what it truly is: a battleground. Somehow his brother ferries between upper London and lower London like a psychopomp with his safe passage. The homeless of London keep watch over the city better than London’s finest do, better than Mycroft’s overly-paid people do, clearly.
The mugger is messily deposited on the Yard’s front steps clutching a laundry list of his crimes and he meekly accepts cuffs. Still breathing with his tongue properly situated in his mouth, as disappointing as it is.
When Mycroft gets home, Sherlock all but attacks him, pure wild energy, and he’s not high; Sherlock high is an electrical circuit, tight devastating voltage cracking through his limbs.
Sherlock sober is quick liquid energy, freedom of movement known as grace and every line of him vibrating, tuned to an unheard frequency, and he’s talking in a rush of commas.
“Mycroft, your operation is a disgrace, how can you possibly plan to take over the world with a group of brainless truncheons like those, made of solid muscle, I imagine, so no room for brain cells, they haven’t the first clue about anything, and I’m pretty sure they have eyes or you wouldn’t have hired them, they could at least use those ocular organs that convert light into data, that is what eyes are in your head to do or do your people not understand that either, and considering everything else you supposedly instantly know, I’m surprised you didn’t win this one, I don’t think your side even showed up for the game, you can’t forfeit before we get started, Mycroft, where’s the fun in that.”
Sherlock staring at him with his hands flung open in his delight, the long loose acute angles of his body, colour in his face, the boyish grin Mycroft remembers always precluded mischief, and his eyes.
He thinks, This isn’t a game, Sherlock. But he won’t say it because it is, another puzzle to be solved, another formula to balance, another organism to see what makes it tick. He recognises it in himself too. Everything’s a game and Sherlock wants to play.
“Of course it is,” Sherlock says, waving a hand, reading his mind like usual.
Mycroft stares at his brother who hasn’t grown out of that feeling of invincibility and now he realises Sherlock probably never will; Sherlock’s multiple threads of logic never lead to the conclusion that he’ll get seriously hurt, it’s just another dot of data in a huge graph.
He thinks of the little eight-year-old with blood in his hair, streaking thick into his eye until Mycroft could get him cleaned and bandaged. He knows Sherlock will end up in hospital, time and time again.
He can only try to minimise the damage.
Sherlock is home again in his flat, reliving the hunt over and over in his mind. It feels like validation for when he was nine and he was right, he knows it. He could do it again.
Tearing about, Sherlock looks for newspapers, and when he’s got an acceptable stack, he settles on the floor, cross-legged, with the skull to help him read.
He solves seven crimes just from the newspaper articles alone and he fumbles about for his laptop to write up possible solutions for four more.
This is heaven, this is bliss, this is what he’s been missing. He might have more newspapers in the bedroom. He scrambles to his feet.
Miracle of miracles, there are newspapers in the bedroom, so he gathers his skull and laptop and relocates to the messy bed in the middle of the room.
Then he finds a pristine syringe and little packet of cocaine hidden in one of his shoes when he kicks it aside.
The drug slides silvery under his skin into his veins and his brain starts to conduct electricity.
[IVa. aeroelastic flutter.]
Sherlock might not see his twenty-fourth birthday.
He can see the dimensions of the room and when he picks up his violin, he can see all the high-class math that goes into making something so exquisite, it produces something else equally exquisite and the room, the violin, the music are all dependent on all those equations hidden in plain sight.
He sends Mycroft a text and wakes up in hospital.
Everything is glaring white and smells of cleaning chemicals and the blanket is weirdly scratchy against his fingertips.
When he turns his head in an act like the shift of tectonic plates, Mycroft is sitting next to the bed, reading a newspaper and Sherlock thinks, Newspaper, I was reading a newspaper. His brother hasn’t slept, living mostly on coffee instead of tea and maybe some crisps or the candy he has in his jacket pocket. Instead of his usual ruler-straight lines, Mycroft is soft and curved in jeans and a jumper with a t-shirt hem peeping out underneath.
Irrationally, Sherlock wants to touch him. “Mycroft.”
“You overdosed,” Mycroft says, folding away the paper, and he sounds calm, but his hands shake, his fingers black with newsprint, he’s been reading for a while, his hands sweating and he has a smudge on his chin as if he’s touched his mouth.
“Don’t be stupid,” Sherlock says, irritated because he wouldn’t do anything that dense and Mycroft is cruel but not that cruel and randomly, every part of him aches.
“I’m not the one in the hospital bed,” Mycroft replies and his eyes are dead pools and Sherlock’s reminded of the skull. He looks away at the adverts in the newspaper for Boxing Day savings and oh, it’s almost the holidays. “So would you like to redefine the word ‘stupid’?”
Sherlock glares. “Mycroft.” He’s drumming up every insult he can think of, but it’s so tiring—
“Sherlock. Don’t. Please.”
And he flashes back to Mycroft stepping away, Sherlock chasing him, with all his teenage want and intent to bind them together, his brother trying not to do this, drag them into this.
“I didn’t overdose because of you, you daft git,” Sherlock reassures his brother airily.
“You do wish to discuss the definition of ‘stupid’.” Mycroft sounds so resigned and Sherlock reaches out to pluck at the fuzz of his jumper, but he can’t make it, the IV in his arm won’t stretch that far. “I found your articles and the laptop.”
“I informed the police.”
“You did what?” Sherlock asks, squinting. “Is that how I—“
“I let them know the cases were solved and how,” his brother jumps in quickly, palm landing on the edge of the bed, “I gave them your name, but they were a bit distracted.”
“And most likely embarrassed. It’s sad that I have to do their job for them, I might as well be out there tackling their criminals too.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what you need: to be fighting ruffians and engaging in gunfights.”
“If the case requires it,” Sherlock says absentmindedly, it might be fun, exciting, tapping the back of Mycroft’s hand. “How in the bloody hell did I get here.”
Mycroft doesn’t pull away, merely turns his palm up and Sherlock scratches along the lines. “You overdosed, we’ve gone over that, I despair to think how many brain cells you’ve sent to an early grave.”
“Oh, don’t be so melodramatic. Not like this jumper,” he says, smiling meanly, even though it makes his face hurt to do so.
“You’ve been here for three days, I couldn’t keep wrinkling my suits sitting here,” Mycroft retorts, snapping his hand closed around Sherlock’s fingers like a venus flytrap.
“You’ve been here for three days.”
“Three days, seven hours and fifty-three minutes.” His brother looks mutely horrified he’s just said that, so Sherlock counts it a win.
Except he’s missing three days and it’s making him angry. “I want to get out of here.”
It takes another day before he can leave and then Mycroft takes him to his house instead of Sherlock’s flat which is annoying, but Sherlock’s rather tired and doesn’t feel like fighting, besides the occasional insult and slight against Mycroft’s wardrobe.
He stomps inside and makes a beeline to Mycroft’s room because if he’s got to be here, then he’s going to impose on Mycroft’s filial generousness in every way he can: from his room, he gathers the luggage Mycroft packed for him and dumps it near Mycroft’s armoire. His cell phone, laptop, skull and violin he leaves back in his own room; he’ll begrudgingly use it as a study. He can tell from the way Mycroft watches him, tracking him through the house, he won’t be headed back to the flat any time soon.
They drink tea and ignore the jauncy noises of the telly and Sherlock sits wrapped in a blanket with his feet in Mycroft’s lap.
“You sent me a text,” is all Mycroft says. “You had been playing and collapsed. Almost choked on—“
Mycroft goes shuttered and Sherlock slides his feet under Mycroft’s thigh where it’s warmer, pressing his toes against his brother.
“What did the text say.”
Without jostling Sherlock, Mycroft fetches his phone from the jacket slung over the back of the sofa. He hands it to Sherlock and watches the telly.
Sherlock isn’t sure he wants to know, but he has to know, he always has to know.
“That’s not too bad,” he says and Mycroft clears his throat before taking the phone away.
“Don’t do it again.”
When Mycroft wakes, there’s a tight warm band around his waist. Sherlock’s clutching him, long body aligning with his, and they don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves, but Mycroft sighs in relief since Sherlock’s sleeping, here, in his bed, where he can see him.
He doesn’t think about the unending terror of finding his brother crumpled on the floor, almost impaled on his bow, vomit pooling around his head.
Sherlock’s addictive nature is something Mycroft’s taken in stride, giving him stuff to focus on, distracting him with shiny things like a magpie, black curls making wings around his temples as he runs from thing to thing to thing. But now he’s failed Sherlock in a monumental, horrible way.
He’ll have to try harder and do better and give Sherlock something new. The old overused cliché: protect him from himself. A kernel of truth in every cliché and his brother is absolute living proof. He kisses Sherlock on the hinge of his jaw, ready to let him sleep, but then Sherlock’s eyes are open, staring at him out of the white of the pillows.
“Cold turkey,” he says, voice deeper than ever, hoarse from the ghost of the tube down his throat (only days ago), and Mycroft says intelligently, “What?”
“I want to go cold turkey,” Sherlock answers, chin jutting defiant. “It’s humiliating to overdose. And I sold my microscope.”
“I know,” Mycroft says, shifting so he can see Sherlock better and that is probably a mistake because Sherlock is immediately furious.
“You let me sell it.”
And Mycroft doesn’t have a response because he’s already castigating himself for not stepping in sooner, letting Sherlock beat him black and blue if necessary. He had to watch Sherlock be lifted into an ambulance and disappear into the faceless hospital and then sit by his bed with all the machines Mycroft could scarily understand after the first day and wait for his brother to open his eyes.
“Sherlock,” he says and he’ll give in first, he’ll acknowledge it, but Sherlock slaps a hand over his mouth.
“Shut it. I don’t want to hear it. I get bored, Mycroft, but you never do. You’re too lazy to be bored.” Sherlock squints, thoughts flowing over his expression, hand slipping hotly away, then he snarls, “I entertain you, don’t I, Mycroft. I’m not your bloody toy.”
“If you were, I’d pull your strings better,” Mycroft returns the shot because if Sherlock wants to fight, then now’s the time. “The illusion of freedom, make you do what I like by simple suggestion and reverse psychology, on an alleged sociopath no less, and—“
“Manipulate me exactly as you manipulate the rest of the insipid world.”
“I am evidently omnipotent and omniscient. I’m glad I’ve received validation for this god-like status. Congratulations to the both of us. Toy needs a treat for coming to this fantastic realisation.” He’s feeling cruel and growing vicious. “Maybe now my beautiful toy will also realise the fucking consequences.”
“It’s not like you to be childish, Mycroft,” Sherlock sniffs, climbing out of bed and that’s rich, coming from an overgrown child.
“It’s not me who’s being childish, Sherlock.”
Those eyes bore into him, colour shifting with anger. “Are you sure?”
“Fine, if you want to continue squabbling like barnyard chickens, by all means, let’s continue this.”
Their natural childhood sibling spite is being hauled up from the depths, like a grotesque shipwreck, and they’ve gotten good at drawing each other out over the years because name-calling was outlawed as unimaginative and the idea was subtlety, slide the blade in under the ribs and then disappear before the bleeding starts.
“Drug use as brain food is a remarkably courageous way of being entertained,” Mycroft says and Sherlock’s right on his heels out into the hallway. “As opposed to actually being arsed into finding something to do, possibly something useful.”
“Oh, like you? Sitting behind your desk, signing away orders to put me under surveillance and sending out for as many cakes as you can?” Sherlock sneers and it’s gorgeous in an awful, distorted way and Mycroft wants to bite at that throat issuing such noises.
“If I have had you watched,” he says instead, “it was for your own good.”
“Because I can’t take care of myself.”
“Hospital, Sherlock, hospital.”
“So I am a child.”
Mycroft smiles, dark and savage. “Precisely.”
And Sherlock whirls away, back into the bedroom. They don’t speak for another day until the shaking begins.
Sherlock’s jitters start in the middle of the night and since he’s holding onto Mycroft by his elbow, the jitters pass into Mycroft and Sherlock tries to talk, but can’t get his tongue past his chittering teeth.
Mycroft wraps him in a blanket and tries to steady Sherlock’s body, tries to keep it still, then finally the grandfather clock down the hall chimes seven and Sherlock stops. He’s moving so slowly, he watches his hands as if he’s again on morphine, hearing entire sagas in his heartbeats. He attempts to tell Mycroft, except this time, he feels like he’s rattling even though everything is stuck in honey.
Seeing Sherlock in such slow motion is frightening, his baby brother the lightning butterfly flitting everywhere as quick as thought and now he has to fight to roll over in bed.
He finally says, “Am I still shaking?” and Mycroft goes absolutely cold, all through his veins.
“No, you’re not.”
“Feels like I am.”
Then Sherlock’s all but falling off the bed to force his limbs drag him to the bathroom, so he can vomit because his stomach is trying to escape his body through his esophagus.
Mycroft’s not letting Sherlock go through this alone; he’s already abandoned his brother once and these are the consequences. He hands Sherlock a towel and soaks a washcloth in cold water and closes his eyes. It reminds them both of when Sherlock was six and had the flu and they both slept in the bathroom with a collection of books Mycroft read to him and empty soup mugs.
Sherlock says, “You can sod off,” and Mycroft hands him the chilly wet towel.
“Here, for your head.”
“I believe I said you can sod off,” Sherlock repeats, but he folds down against Mycroft, resting his throbbing head and nauseated body along Mycroft’s legs, the towel on his forehead, blotting out his eyes with amazing darkness and water and Mycroft finger-combs through his hair.
They have a week until Christmas and Mummy would like them home for Christmas dinner though it’s becoming a tradition for everything to be rocky and barely civil because despite this love, entanglement, bond, when faced with their beatific, glowing mum over a table laden with holiday food, they regress to children, bickering and snapping like angry ferrets. Christmas is a deadline they probably won’t make, but Mycroft will be drawn and quartered before he tells her why.
Mycroft’s house is clean; he’s never let Sherlock in with syringes and so when he later finds Sherlock pawing through drawers, distractedly chewing on one of his fingers, he knows what he’s looking for and he closes his eyes for a second before taking Sherlock by the shoulders and guiding him away.
“There isn’t any in the house and don’t think of trying to go to your flat. There isn’t any there either,” he says, absolutely despising how he sounds because this is his brother, the genius, the other half of him, his DNA, mind and body and soul, and this should not be happening.
“You sound like crap telly. I don’t like it,” Sherlock says.
Mycroft laughs, humourless, and Sherlock glares at him. “That stuff will rot your brain, Mycroft. I think you need an intervention.”
“Of course, Sherlock, what was I thinking, watching crap telly when I have you around for amusement.”
Sherlock stands in the living room, glowering at the television in front of him. “I often wonder what goes on in your pea-brain,” he says, then his tone changes, mimicking Mycroft to a scary degree, “but now I know it’s just full of rubbish and I have to say I’m very disappointed.”
“So you impugn my honor.”
“No, I insult your brain. Obviously you can’t tell the difference.”
So Mycroft challenges him to chess, because that’s the only proper thing to do in this situation, it’ll keep Sherlock’s mind and hands busy, and they finish the day, five games to four, Mycroft the victor.
“You overuse your knights,” Sherlock says, pouting, and Mycroft hands him a mug of soup.
“You overuse your bishops.”
Later, Mycroft wakes to the sound of Sherlock searching through the hallway closet, an almost compulsory action, and he ignores the little boy way Sherlock says, “My mind, Mycroft, my mind, it’s buzzing.”
The withdrawal is taking over everything. Since Sherlock can’t sleep, Mycroft doesn’t sleep either. He’s attempting to work from his house (he really needs to get an assistant, but trust is such a difficult thing), going through reports and files at all hours and Sherlock leans over his shoulder, reading and pointing out the things Mycroft’s missed. It takes the two of them to go through a stack and they get into arguments over analyses of political intent and diplomatic discussions and they’re becoming more vicious by the day.
They’ll both be fucking damned before they let the other have the last word.
Mycroft’s doorframes might not handle Sherlock for much longer. He’s provoked by the slightest thing, and everything is eggshell delicate and they’ve said horrible dagger-thrown things, then an hour later, Sherlock appears wherever Mycroft is and barges into his personal space to talk about mould growth he’s decided to study in the kitchen, “that camembert you’re ignoring should do nicely, I won’t touch your sweets, I promise, I know how you need them to function.” A teasing smirk and Sherlock tight against Mycroft’s back, bleeding heat, then he disappears in a shambles of pyjamas.
Mycroft isn’t sure he can’t put off this fantastically annoying, intriguing, prowling adult his brother has become.
Sherlock takes to watching Mycroft with a glint in his eye, his canines looking longer in his mouth. He sees Mycroft in this new hazy state as if his brother’s living in a floating dreadnought above all and sundry, death from above, and Sherlock’s on the ground, enjoying the asphalt and smell of smoke and watching the bombs fall, and he wants to explode Mycroft, yank him down to his level, dirty him and make him filthy, then after awhile, he’ll send his brother back, like a turned spy, clean and pristine, with Sherlock’s claims and marks, souvenirs under his clothes.
But before he can do anything, corner Mycroft and spoil his tidy lines, Sherlock’s absurdly fucking irritated at fucking everything. The telly is trash, the newspapers are trash, his laptop is a hunk of metal and plastic he wants to toss out the window, and it’s all just fucking wrong. It can all go to hell in a pretty fucking handbasket for the fuck-all he cares about it.
He’s exhausted but he can’t sleep and Mycroft can’t sleep, jittering at the same restless frequency as Sherlock, and Sherlock’s becoming depressed he’ll ever regain his sanity, because he’s patently lost it somewhere along the way, maybe in those eight months, maybe in hospital, maybe in Mycroft. All he knows is it’s gone and it’s gone and it’s gone and Sherlock may never again feel the pure euphoria of having energy at his beck and call, his mind’s power station is flipping switches, shutting down, slowly but surely.
Sherlock feels like a skeleton walking around just so it won’t break. He wants to push Mycroft against a wall and check his joints, count his bones because his brother looks like he’s quietly held together with wire.
Mycroft realises the house is too quiet three days before Christmas. He begins a weary systematic search, tuning out the chittering idea that Sherlock left, only to find Sherlock on the bathroom floor, curled in front of the toilet. He’s resting a cheek on the cold tiles, blinking sluggishly. Lying there, he informs Mycroft, “One of these days, I will set this house on fire, just to spite you.”
“I’d like to see you try,” Mycroft says as he sits down by his brother.
“I will do.”
“Why. What reason, Sherlock.”
“I don’t need a reason, but I suppose I need something to tell the arson unit. This house offends me.”
Mycroft smiles. “Just so.” And then Sherlock’s pawing his way back to the toilet to retch.
Sherlock’s appetite is all over the place: he’s starving, he’s so full he hurts, he’s starving, he eats an entire box of Weetabix Mycroft didn’t know he had in the cabinets. If Sherlock’s eating, Mycroft is eating and when Sherlock isn’t eating, he’s complaining about the smell of food. It’s wreaking havoc on Mycroft who finds himself carrying sweets around wherever he is in the house and worse, he’s eating them, and Sherlock takes to saying, “How’s the diet.”
It’s bloody miserable, the two of them rattling around each other in energy-drained fashion, their internal clocks in another time zone and Sherlock keeps touching Mycroft and Mycroft grits his teeth, he’s not taking advantage of his brother like this.
“Stop being dense,” Sherlock says, stroking down Mycroft’s throat with his finger and Mycroft shivers.
“Yes, I’m the dense one, Sherlock,” he snaps, ”I’m the one who didn’t almost kill himself,” and it’s the wrong thing to say, as if he’s breaking them into their distinct halves again, and Sherlock’s expression is awful.
He pulls away slowly, then stalks out and the house goes eerily still.
Sherlock doesn’t talk to him, won’t talk to him, locks the bathroom door when he is sick again, and takes to sleeping in his own bedroom, sharing bed space with his laptop, books and the skull.
The message is clear: he doesn’t need Mycroft.
Christmas Eve, and Sherlock appears before Mycroft like a vengeful demon, eyes fiery. He’s dressed, slacks, button-down, a blazer he’s appropriated because it’s too narrow for Mycroft, and it fits him well, drawing Mycroft’s gaze down along his lean lines. He likes to hold a grudge (there was a torn biology diagram he’s never forgotten) and he smiles meanly at his brother.
“It’s stifling in here and boring and I need some fresh air. We’re going to Christmas dinner.”
“You hate Christmas dinner,” Mycroft answers, suspicious. He points his pen at Sherlock. “This is revenge.”
“Oh, so you aren’t dense,” Sherlock retorts. “Mummy will be pleased to see you. You’ll have to be on your best behaviour.”
“My best behaviour. I was always the good child, Sherlock, so my best behaviour isn’t anything new.”
“No cakes, no pudding, no sweets, Mycroft, you don’t want to destroy your lovely figure.”
Things are about to degenerate quickly, so Mycroft puts the battle on hold to go change clothes. “Maybe you can tell Mummy how you’ve spent the last month,” he says, putting paid to any responses and neatly stepping around Sherlock. He counts to eighteen before Sherlock’s following him into his bedroom and he ignores as his brother watches him dress.
The tie he wants to wear is missing and when he turns to look for it, Sherlock blocks his path. His expression is dark and the tie is slung around his neck. Sherlock slides it off, the silk whispering over the blazer, sybaritic and inviting, and he presses against Mycroft to draw it around him. His long fingers stroke as he ties the tie and he looks up as he settles the knot at the base of Mycroft’s throat, hand straying to smooth the tie down.
“Why don’t you tell Mummy how you’ve spent the last six years,” Sherlock says.
Mycroft at twenty-four, Sherlock at seventeen, and they’re still in the same situation, still spiteful in love, Mycroft at thirty, Sherlock at twenty-three.
“Surely that isn’t a felicitous story for Christmas,” Mycroft replies, clearing his throat, and Sherlock huffs, then he leans in fast and bites Mycroft’s mouth.
They’d rather fight, but then there’s this and they’re kissing hard as if there’s going to be a victor.
Then Sherlock’s abruptly clutching at Mycroft for stability and they almost topple over into the wall, they’re so exhausted. Mycroft kisses his brother once, almost chaste because they’re still going to Christmas dinner and playing nice until they can get back to London.
When their mother sees them, she bursts into tears.
“You two look a bloody frightful mess! What have you been doing to yourselves?”
Christmas is difficult to get through because Sherlock is still in withdrawal, wandering the house at all hours, his hands shaking occasionally so he has to fist them enough to relax and hold a cup or a knife and fork or even button his shirts.
They avoid each other, spending time with Mummy separately and the house is big and it echoes. She worries about them individually; “Sherlock, you look so done in, can’t you sleep just once, for me,” and Sherlock tries to divert her to a few renovations she’s making to the old stables, pointing out the structural weaknesses in the photographs she shows him; “oh my word, Mycroft, you’re working too hard again, aren’t you,” and Mycroft takes her for a walk in the light snow and asks after the neighbour families.
They avoid each other scrupulously, never in a room together, and when Sherlock disappears for an hour, later hunting down Mycroft with his eyes large and dark in his white face, it’s time to go back to London.
“Sherlock, what happened,” Mycroft says on the train and Sherlock’s shaking in his seat.
“I don’t know,” he hisses, cross and tired. “I was in the library, looking through a book.” He makes a gesture, as if it’s there’s a gap in his memory. “Insects, perhaps. I was in the library, then I woke up in your bedroom, all the way across the house and a flight up. So, Mycroft, you know so much, you tell me what happened because I don’t know.”
He’s losing pockets of time again and his mood is getting worse and as they get into the foyer of Mycroft’s house, he’s jittering, talking fast, all snapped nouns and verbs.
Mycroft traps him until Sherlock seems to stop and then Sherlock’s shoving him off, “I’m not your cuddle toy, Mycroft, I’m fine.”
“Oh yes, you’re doing splendid. Remarkably well, I see.”
“Shut up, you prat.”
New Year’s has the telly on with the sounds of celebration and Mycroft’s watching Sherlock pace around the room, hands scrubbing through his hair because another craving has hit him, harder this any of the others; Sherlock woke him by pressing fingers to Mycroft’s carotid artery, other hand pinning him to the mattress, as he said over and over, ‘You are a little soul carrying around a corpse,’ his voice vibrating black into the pitch dark.
“The boredom is coming back, Mycroft. Hateful.”
And Mycroft feels like he’s crashing, as if Sherlock is dragging him from a mighty height, and his little brother can’t slow his own descent.
Sherlock’s goading him, pushing pushing pushing, like he did a year ago, before they lost most of this year and when the hammer falls, it smashes fast and without mercy. There’s blood in the water (blood is thicker than water) and they’re circling each other. They fight and they fight viciously. They fight with those subtle knives they’ve carried into adulthood, Mycroft becoming overly polite and sneering with his prodigious vocabulary, Sherlock blunt as ever and finding Mycroft’s pulse points.
“What do you think this is,” Mycroft says and Sherlock retorts, “Tawdry. I think it’s time for you to find a new hobby.”
Their eyes match, on fire, Sherlock’s a shade lighter.
It’s a new year and Sherlock will see his twenty-fourth birthday.
He does so alone, back in his flat, throwing his phone against the wall when it rings.
[IVb. causal arrow of time.]
Mycroft is thirty-one and Sherlock is twenty-four and Mycroft’s always had his finger on the button, the ability to put a stop to this rivalry, this love they have, detach them into separate beings, maybe like they should have been so long ago. But he doesn’t.
He does what he always does: watches and waits and makes sure Sherlock doesn’t burn down London Town.
His brother is like fission, self-perpetuating energy preparing to burst at any moment, and all that awful potential is sitting alone in his flat, sulking, and Mycroft knows Sherlock is watching and waiting; he glanced out his window the other day to see Sherlock hovering on the sidewalk opposite.
His assistant knocks, door politely ajar until he calls her in, and she’s a marvel in this sea of administrative drudgery, whip-smart and she won’t take bullshit even when it’s served in the prettiest wrapping paper done up like a diplomatic flag. He’s her boss, but she sees him as her equal and it amuses Mycroft she isn’t afraid of him like most of the other staff. She’ll tell him his tie is crooked and then tell him about the disruption of the Italian rail service due to protests in Milan and it all comes out in the same tone, as if her view of the world is purely sardonic.
She’d dismiss Sherlock in one glance and that’s her only mistake. She’s standing next to danger and she knows it, but as smart as she is, she doesn’t see the full measure of how dangerous Mycroft is. Especially concerning his brother.
After she drops off a stack of files, Mycroft wanders to the window, but he doesn’t look down.
He and Sherlock both have the choice to stop. Mycroft knows he would break cleanly, he would leave his brother and stand untouchable and watch from a distance for the rest of his life. Sherlock would press and press and press, Sherlock would reach and cut him again and again, not in revenge, but to quantify and plumb the depths they would create between them.
Mycroft can’t even fathom it, his universe without Sherlock, dark like a sun that’s gone supernova and disappeared into a gravitational collapse.
He looks down.
Sherlock isn’t there today, counting windows to find Mycroft’s, like he did when he was small.
Sherlock’s gone through a month’s worth of newspapers, scrawling over them in red ink and a highlighter until he forgot to put the cap back on the highlighter and it dried out, so he had to get a new one. A month’s worth of crimes and he’s solving them, one with a cuppa, three more after lunch, half of one before he distracts himself with his violin.
The skull grins and grins and grins as Sherlock wades his way amongst the gory details, the flotsam and jetsam of people brainless enough to a) commit crimes and b) leave behind every shred of evidence they can so they can c) be arrested. It boggles the mind how these people function in the everyday world if they can’t even murder someone properly or steal an inanimate object that isn’t going to fight back or alert the neighbours.
He buys a pack of cigarettes and smokes and plots the perfect murder on his laptop, scribbling notes over the Sunday Times crossword. He makes little buildings out of the letters LONDON TELEGRAPH and debates the merits of ice picks and syringes.
During the day, Sherlock goes outside and skulks around Mycroft’s kingdom in Whitehall and he doesn’t quite know why he’s there, it’s just another piece of London, a square he should black out on his mental map, along with Mycroft’s house, but he doesn’t.
He sends a text: You really ought to stop following me.
Then he randomly goes to the Eye to people-watch because the skull is grinning mindlessly at him again and it’s making him angry.
The boredom is coming.
His phone buzzes. I should just put a bell on you.
Not your pet. He bares his teeth and a young mother scurries away, clutching at her baby.
I didn’t say you were.
Bloody Mycroft, sitting smug behind his desk, and oh, that’s right, he’s got that new assistant, a pretty brunette who looks like she could break Sherlock’s knees while she serves Mycroft his tea and she wouldn’t spill a drop. Of course Mycroft hires an assistant who has a knack for being smarter than she acts, lazy and glued to her phone constantly.
Sherlock wants to kidnap her and find out what she knows, about him, about Mycroft, about the world in general because she’s close to Mycroft and that’s information enough. And she’s pretty. That’s just annoying.
The boredom is coming and his phone buzzes again as the Eye goes round.
Dinner. 19.30. French. It helps brainwork if you do eat occasionally.
Sherlock knows the French Mycroft’s referring to, a little brasserie a few blocks away from his flat. They’ve been there before, after certain recreational activities.
He won’t be there.
He goes back to the flat, showers, dresses in jeans and black, and heads for a particular corner of London he knows very well because the boredom is coming and he’s got crimes on his hands in the smudges of newspaper ink and Mycroft is off somewhere in London being smug.
There are clean syringes and a little bag of freedom and Sherlock lines them on the floor next to his bed.
The boredom is coming, but he’s going to fight it off as best he can right now because he isn’t sure which hell is worse: his bones rattling like they aren’t his as he stumbles through withdrawal or the despair of listening to his mind go mad.
The skull grins, prescient, and Sherlock turns its face to the wall.
Three weeks later, he’s hidden his phone, ripped all his newspapers to shreds and he’s listening to his mind eat itself simply for something to do and the syringe in his hand is enough to make it stop.
Mycroft closes his eyes and like magic, his phone rings. Almost midnight and he isn’t asleep, he’s busy looking over a new set of satellite photographs of military encampments from the Middle East and he actually isn’t sure when he last left his office.
“Mr. Holmes, I’m sorry to bother you so late,” the voice begins and immediately, Mycroft stands, scattering papers, blood rushing to his head.
Sherlock has gotten himself fucking arrested. High and attempting to buy cocaine from a plainclothes, though they could tip it into possession, so they claim. The inspector must be very good if he could hide his police mannerisms from Sherlock. Or Sherlock is obviously high enough to be out of his fucking mind.
When Mycroft gets to Scotland Yard, he’s furious, the bitter ferocity he’s felt before because something’s happened to his brother. It sweeps him into the building and Mycroft smiles coldly before explaining the situation, then he’s taken to Sherlock.
Sherlock’s haughty, talking fast, clattering out words like marbles and he’s gathered a little group of police in front of his cell. He ziplines through their lives, from the way they clean their badge, tie their shoes, carry their weapon, part their hair, keep cigarettes in their front pocket, and stopped wearing their wedding ring.
A hefty, sniggering DI swaggers by with a file in his hand and shows Sherlock a picture. “Whaddya make of that then, eagle eye, ya so clever?” and even from where Mycroft stands, he can see Sherlock’s overlarge pupils take in the details, his brain hurtling itself through space to forge the connections.
“Are you getting paid to ask me that?” Sherlock says venomously, but he doesn’t wait for an answer. “Young woman, early twenties, works in an office, probably had an office romance judging by the scarf she’s wearing and the nail polish. Killed by a single gunshot to the chest; I’m not a doctor, but it’s possible her lungs filled with blood until she drowned in it. She most likely wasn’t killed wherever you” —Sherlock squints at the DI, then waves a hand— “or whichever of these half-witted lot found her because her shoes are much too clean for the ground she’s lying on. She’s not wearing lipstick, so the killer wasn’t her girlfriend from work.” The DI blinks dumbly and Sherlock says with long drawn-out over-enunciation, “Girlfriend. I’d ask round about a sibling, since I’m clearly doing your job.”
That’s when he spots Mycroft, who’s in the doorway, trying not to shake, impressed and furious because his brother has been arrested like some dingy-mouthed junkie and he’s here performing his circus leaps of logic for the police as if it’s old hat. He’s solving a girl’s murder while he’s high and he’s still the most exquisite thing Mycroft’s ever seen, and then Sherlock’s scornful expression goes flat as their gazes meet.
Mycroft steps close and the police disperse, the DI walking away in some sort of daze, staring at the photograph.
Sherlock scowls, eyeing Mycroft up and down. “So you’ve come to fetch me. Like a stray pet.”
“Well, you did wander away and roll in something undesirable.”
“I don’t need a bell, or a leash,” Sherlock says and Mycroft smirks.
“That would certainly make our already unique brotherly relations more interesting.”
“Don’t be perverse in the middle of a police station, Mycroft.”
Sherlock’s released to Mycroft and Mycroft wants to meet the inspector who arrested his brother, but no one at the desk is any help, and Sherlock’s glowering at everyone around them, so it’s in their best interest to leave before Sherlock starts insulting a whole building of police officers.
He’s never held onto anger this long, he usually can utilise it to his advantage, but this is an unacceptable outcome of many variables and he feels once again he’s failed Sherlock somehow.
Guiding his brother by the arm, Mycroft gets them to a taxi and then over to Sherlock’s flat. They don’t speak on the way, the lights of late-night London skating by, making the shadows on Sherlock’s face deeper.
As soon as Sherlock steps into the flat, he’s talking again and Mycroft listens closely because Sherlock is self-destructive at twenty-four and there has to be a clue in him somewhere as to why.
His eyes are lit as if he can feel Mycroft’s anger and he suddenly snaps his mouth shut.
And Mycroft sees the ripped newspapers, the maelstrom of the room, swirled about and redistributed out of frustration and he knows what Sherlock’s mind must have been like.
Mycroft doesn’t know what to say, remembering Sherlock telling him, The boredom is coming. He knows what boredom means to Sherlock, how it scoops out his brain and Sherlock is left reckless and restless and it’s like the withdrawal, only there’s nothing Sherlock is running away from, except the buzzing in his empty skull. Sherlock saying, The boredom is coming; a peek into the future, a self-fulfilling prophecy, yet another demand, Mycroft isn’t sure, but this has to be the absolute last time.
“Don’t you see,” Sherlock says and Mycroft does.
Sherlock’s decided Mycroft is his archenemy, not an archvillain, that’s something altogether different from his brother, no, Mycroft is his archenemy because they’re so much alike and they know each other’s weaknesses and theirs is a rivalry, a sibling rivalry gone twisted and illegal, and Sherlock will never have an enemy like Mycroft, there’s no one like his brother, their shared blood-bone-breath.
It sounds better in his head, which is bloody well working again.
He explains it to Mycroft like a set of schematics, writing invisibly around him and Mycroft is quiet, like he is when he’s massively angry with Sherlock.
But Mycroft is staying quiet and the light is gathering around him again, little fishes, Sherlock really needs to move out of this flat, Montague Street is unquestionably infested with little light fishes.
“How many did you solve,” Mycroft says.
“Just about all of them,” Sherlock replies loftily because what a stupid question. “There are two I haven’t finished. I was…interrupted.”
“Interrupted,” Mycroft echoes, and he is angry, Sherlock can hear it in how his voice goes deeper, politer and the fishes swim angry, if such a thing is possible, but Sherlock’s watching it so it must be possible. Sherlock stares at Mycroft, he can see the herringbone in the tweed of his suit, the faint stitched pattern on his tie, the crease in his pocket where he keeps his phone. He watches his brother’s lines fold and bend until Mycroft is standing in front of him, and he doesn’t say anything when Mycroft cups his head and pulls him close. Mycroft is shaking minutely, as if he’s vibrating, and then he is vibrating because he’s speaking, low and dark in Sherlock’s ear.
“The boredom will come back, you know,” he says and Sherlock stiffens, his high starting to shed from him bit by bit like snakeskin. “But you cannot keep doing this.”
Sherlock grabs his elbows awkwardly so Mycroft can’t get away, thinking, This, thinking about them together, but then he understands and the light fishes start swimming away as he blinks.
“Of course I can’t, don’t be thick. Getting arrested by the Met who can’t even figure out their own cases, let alone which end of a camera takes pictures. It’s a wonder they know how to use handcuffs. Or guns. Or a pen between the lot of them,” Sherlock replies in exaggerated horror, but Mycroft cuts him off before he can really get going.
“Did you send any of your deductions to the police?”
And there’s the sore spot, the wound Sherlock’s carried since he was nine, that laughter over the line all the way from London.
“Did you not hear what I just said about their complete and utter incompetence? The fact I’ve even solved those crimes is proof alone that—“
“Did you send any of your deductions to the police.” Mycroft lets him go, stepping back enough to look Sherlock in the eye and his brother looks angry still, though exactly how angry, Sherlock can’t tell yet since the light fishes abandoned him. He peers at Mycroft and there, how his jaw moves as he bites the inside of his cheek.
He’s frustrated with Sherlock, in a tired way Sherlock hasn’t seen in a couple of years, as if Mycroft wants to shake some sense into him and he remembers Mycroft warning him not to do things, then later wiping blood off him, bandaging scrapes and cuts, icing bruises and black eyes and bad sprains.
“No, I haven’t,” Sherlock says, pushing his thumbs to the hinges of Mycroft’s jawbone.
Mycroft tilts his head in a sarcastic gesture and Sherlock follows him with his fingers.
“Maybe you should. If you don’t wish to be arrested by the Met, you can at least repay them.”
“For this humiliation.”
A diabolical smile, Mycroft’s own invention, Sherlock’s never seen it on another face, and he likes to touch it as Mycroft says, “Your humiliation. Exactly.”
Sherlock huffs and Mycroft continues in a disappointed tone, “How did you not spot the plainclothes, Sherlock? We both know you can do much, much better.”
“I did spot him,” Sherlock retorts. And the lights were bright on the street, it had rained earlier and everything was turned into a reflective surface and Sherlock’s high was dying and he was out and he needed to buoy up because the boredom was waiting to fill the void, all he saw was a man about his height in a decent coat with decent shoes and even his hair looked reflective, his large dark eyes gave no warning. “After the transaction.”
“Of course. When he showed you his badge and handcuffed you. Excellent work.”
Letting his hands fall, Sherlock brushes past him, annoyed because the high is fading fast and he can’t do it again, he knows it, it’s becoming too much, this time he had seen the spin of the earth and the oldest bone foundations of London and how the ink saturated the newspaper until the words didn’t make sense anymore even when he wrote them, copying them over and over, and it was that that pushed him to buy more since Mycroft wasn’t there and the aphasia might return without Mycroft, it’s becoming unthinkable.
He hears Mycroft fiddling with his phone and then somewhere in the bedroom, there’s a beeping.
“So that’s where your phone has wandered off to hide,” Mycroft says, headed that direction. “Chinese or Indian.”
“Indian,” Sherlock replies, rescuing the skull from a corner of the room where it’s been turned on its head, so to speak, and all of a sudden, he can’t stay standing. His legs fold under him and then he’s sitting in the corner with his knees to his chest, trying to help his lungs remember how to breathe.
He closes his eyes and listens to nothing, he’s got to listen to nothing because this is all going to repeat and one of these days, Sherlock is going to completely twist out of his mind and he wishes Mycroft had his insanity too so he wouldn’t be alone.
Then there’s newspaper ruins being brushed away and something heavy laid at his feet and he feels a lingering press to his hair. Quick, he reaches up and catches Mycroft around the neck, dragging him down. When Sherlock opens his eyes, his laptop is in front of him and Mycroft in his careful suit is sitting with him in the corner. Mycroft isn’t shaking, Sherlock feels his brother’s body relax, maybe he’s not angry with Sherlock anymore.
Once upon a time, Mycroft was fourteen and Sherlock was seven and Sherlock knew beyond the shadow of a doubt there was something in the old, disused parlour, the room no one ever went in, especially the maids because they claimed it was haunted. Noises in the chimney, shadows on the wallpaper, the curtains would move on their own and there was a broken music box of their mother’s she’d forgotten to have repaired and it would tinkle notes at a whim. Sherlock went in there by himself and touched everything he could because there’s no such thing as ghosts until he blinked and saw a grotesque face in the mirror over the mantelpiece. Mycroft found him in the far corner, studying the mirror with horrified trepidation, as if the face might return and step though it. He sat with Sherlock in the corner and they didn’t talk, just stared at the mirror for a while, then Mycroft got up and cleaned the dust off the silver. No face, nothing, only their reflections over the mantelpiece and Sherlock said, ‘It was there,’ and Mycroft replied, ‘I believe you.’ That night, they camped in the corner with blankets and tea and biscuits, waiting for the face and Sherlock fell asleep like that, against Mycroft’s side in the corner.
“Knowing you, your deductions are overly complex and haphazard. You tend to leave out the connecting details, the actual important evidence,” Mycroft says. “If you’re going to send them to Scotland Yard, you’ll need to make them relatively legible.”
Mycroft smirks and Sherlock glares at him. “They do need all the help they can get and I have never left out anything important.”
“Evidence, Sherlock, remember you have to have evidence.”
That smirk is uncalled for and Sherlock’s about to wipe it off his face when the bell rings.
“Indian, as you requested,” Mycroft says. “I don’t suppose you have enough to pay—oh, no, that helpful inspector took your money from you.”
“Stole it, he stole it, it was stolen from me. There is a difference.”
His brother stands and the smirk is still there, absolutely abhorrent, and Sherlock doesn’t know what he was thinking letting Mycroft into his flat at all.
“I am not spoon-feeding you,” Mycroft says, “you’ve been arrested by the police, not knocked stupid, though the two might not be mutually exclusive.”
Sherlock doesn’t deign to reply and opens his laptop as Mycroft keeps talking.
“The mother killed her daughter. It was the ladder and paint, wasn’t it? All it takes is a blow to the head. Murder is, quite simply, much too easy and therefore, tempting. You’ve already plotted the perfect one, haven’t you. Am I lucky enough to be your intended victim?”
“You’re my brother, Mycroft, who else would be better suited for me to murder. And I’m sure somewhere in the world there are elections going on you need to rig,” Sherlock says, running his fingers over the keyboard. “But yes. Ladder and paint.”
“Alibi?” The smell of food precedes Mycroft and Sherlock realises he’s hungry, has been for days possibly and his hands suddenly shake. He clenches them to make them stop so Mycroft won’t see.
“Flimsy. Easily taken apart.”
Sherlock scowls. “Surely people can find something better to kill for than a mere selfish choice of sexual partner.”
Mycroft laughs, handing Sherlock a fork. “It’s either love or money. It’s always love or money.”
“You have murdered someone, haven’t you, and you haven’t told me and you didn’t let me help hide the body.” The last tendrils of the high are sliding out of Sherlock’s brain and he’s reasonably overly-irritated.
“Now who’s being thick. If I wanted to kill, I’d have someone do it for me, you know that.”
“Then you could hide the body, like you wanted. Drinks all around.”
Sherlock curls his lip and says, “Go manipulate someone else.”
Mycroft holds Sherlock’s arrest record, weighing the pages. He thinks he ought to have it framed, something gaudy and ostentatious, and hang it in Sherlock’s flat like an accomplishment: congratulations on your arrest, cheers. He will keep a copy though, for himself, along with all the other paperwork he’s gathered over the years on his brother. Then he might send out a tongue-lashing of a memorandum because Sherlock’s shadow was fooled as well by his brother who could cause chaos by merely talking. That night should go down in infamy.
His assistant —her name today is Alphaea, though he doesn’t think this one will last long; she changes her name as if it’s her password— brings in a separate folder he’s requested and she glances at him briefly.
“Sir, those files you asked for are on their way. Should be here soon. If the woman knows how to use a taxi,” she says, smiling, just a curl at the corner of her mouth, then she disappears without waiting for his reply. She calls him “sir” as if it’s ironic. Sherlock’s done it as well, when Mycroft caught him smashing out windows at the old stables, ‘like you haven’t done it before, sir.’ So they broke the windows together.
He’s meticulously tracked the arresting inspector’s work and discovered the man is good, very good, but he tends to consistently bend around the rules just enough and, probably due to rampant jealousy within the Yard, any promotions are not forthcoming.
Until he arrested Sherlock. Mycroft closes out Sherlock’s record, no further action needed, and ensures that one Detective Sergeant G. Lestrade is created Detective Inspector. If he can fool Sherlock, even for those few quick seconds in the dark, he’s worth keeping an eye on for the future.
A set of cold cases are being re-routed from the Yard archives to Mycroft and he hopes this will help funnel his brother’s energy away from destroying himself. It means the younger Sherlock who rampaged through the house, with his curiosity consuming him and his inexplicable ability to be everywhere and into everything at once, this same Sherlock will be let loose on London with a much bigger playground and many more chances to show exactly how dangerous he is.
Sherlock’s genius is different from Mycroft’s because Mycroft can understand and disengage to such a degree he makes the problem work for him instead of the other way round. He’s too lazy to do the legwork required for anything physical, but all he needs are the details and he’ll have it sorted. His intellect is his weapon and he’s never underestimated how sharp it is, how well it can cut, and how much blood it will spill.
Sherlock’s is like a mental illness, because he lives wholeheartedly in it; it’s a second heartbeat in his head and he won’t ever be able to get away from it.
Eat or be eaten, Sherlock’s genius could devour him if he lets it, it could even overwhelm Mycroft, but control is an act of will.
Mycroft won’t let it happen to either of them. Worst-case scenario. Mutually assured destruction.
It’s raining out. He takes his newest umbrella; his old one was destroyed by Sherlock when he took it to the park on a windy day, wanting to see the coefficient of lift in action since he could only see it in the equations; he was high and smiling and talking to Mycroft about the bees again and Mycroft said, ‘It’s very likely it only works for Mary Poppins, otherwise I’m sure umbrella flight would’ve caught on by now,’ and Sherlock retorted, ‘You are Mary Poppins, remember, I’m surprised you haven’t weaponized these things, you’ve probably killed someone with yours.’ The umbrella almost dragged Sherlock into a pond and Mycroft said, ‘No, I haven’t killed anyone by umbrella, not yet anyway, though you are trying very hard on my behalf. It’s really rather touching.’
There’s another umbrella lost somewhere in Sherlock’s flat and that is a mystery neither one of them has sussed out.
When he arrives at Sherlock’s with the files and a box of food, he finds Sherlock asleep. At least he made it to his bed. The blankets are sideways across the mattress, strewn about and Sherlock’s naked underneath. His hair is messy, wild flattened curls, as if he showered before falling into bed.
Another slight withdrawal period and Mycroft is glad Sherlock’s sleeping; it can only speed along the process.
He puts the food in the fridge, sealing off a shelf for the questionable experiments Sherlock’s running, one looks like it used to be milk. Then he slips out of his clothes and slides under the damp covers, careful to stay on one side of the bed, but Sherlock rolls towards him, palm finding his chest, fingers curling. Mycroft holds his breath and watches his brother sleep. Purple circles under his eyes, and his lip is cut and puffy, as if he’s bitten it, and his wrists are still ringed in red, faint, from the handcuffs.
He watches Sherlock breathe.
Something flutters onto his face and Mycroft wakes to Sherlock sitting cross-legged on the bed, still naked, with the archive files spread around and partially over Mycroft’s legs.
“I’ve decided,” Sherlock says, preoccupied, then he shifts a page from what could be a column to what could be another column.
“Decided what. You’re going to put me to rest under police work. Not exactly the quickest way to kill me, but Mummy will want to be there for the funeral.”
Sherlock looks at him, a light in his pale eyes, the greybluegreen Mycroft loves.
“Nonsense,” Sherlock replies, waving a page at him, “it will be simple,” but Mycroft hears it: it will be fun.
“I have an email address for you. Send all your deductions there.” He took it upon himself to acquire DI Lestrade’s email and phone number. Just in case. He also sent an anonymous email telling Lestrade to expect new information to come to light. “He’ll listen to you.”
“I created a website, while you were talking in your sleep about cake,” Sherlock rushes ahead, then he drops the crime scene photograph he’s holding to pick up another one. “Why would he listen.”
Mycroft smiles, going for angelic, but neither of them have ever been even close to angelic and Sherlock’s expression is properly skeptical.
“He’s the plainclothes who arrested you. I took the liberty of promoting him for doing such excellent work in arresting you when you were being moronic.” It’s wonderfully delicious, dropping a verbal bomb on someone and watching it explode over them, even better when it’s his little brother.
“When I said go manipulate someone else, I didn’t mean do it to make my life more bloody difficult,” Sherlock retorts, stubborn, and Mycroft kisses him, and when Sherlock kisses back, the cut on his lip cracks and bleeds.
[V. action at a distance.]
Mycroft turns thirty-two and Sherlock’s not yet twenty-five and there’s a weapons scare at Whitehall.
“Why am I not surprised your birthday coincides with a weapons scare,” Sherlock says from Mycroft’s desk chair when his brother comes in. He spins like a villain in the movies and Mycroft hides his smile, Sherlock doesn’t need any encouragement.
“If you wanted to visit me at work, little brother, you could have called.”
Sherlock bristles when Mycroft calls him that and this time he shakes his shoulders out as if he’s felt a draft. “Like you would have let me in. Your goons don’t hide very well, by the way. Too many guns. Or muscles. Tends to disrupt any stealth, and if you’re using them to test new SIS equipment, then either your equipment has failed or your test subjects don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. Either way, it’s a cock-up,” Sherlock says and Mycroft’s assistant steps into the office daintily.
“He appeared after they swept the hallway,” she says, not surprised, more irate than anything. She stares at Sherlock in such a frank way, it’s a polite glare.
“The hallway,” Sherlock says in fake confusion. “They don’t sweep your office.”
“Of course they don’t. I’m not part of the…protocol,” Mycroft replies, loosening his tie.
Sherlock makes a noise of excessive incredulity and turns to the woman at his elbow as Mycroft rolls his eyes. “Ianthe—no, it’s not that any longer, what is it now.”
“Danae,” she says, civil, but she’s sizing Sherlock up as if she can’t decide where to punch him first.
“Danae,” he echoes, “when are you going to get off the Greek names? Go for a little variety. Welsh. Arabic. Or try Hebrew. There’s a wealth of pronunciations—“
Mycroft puts a stop to the nonsense. “Tea, if you please, Danae, and my brother can be put on the list. I suppose.”
She disappears with a raised eyebrow and an I won’t forget this expression.
“I’m offended I wasn’t already on your mystical mystery list.” Sherlock shakes his head and perches on the arm of a chair.
"I didn't think you wanted to be, though now that you are, you can come in and help me overrun small countries. It'll help pass the time," Mycroft says, leaning against his desk so he can keep an eye on his brother and Sherlock makes a shooing motion.
Then he says cheerfully, “In any case, happy birthday, Mycroft. Why have a weapons scare if you aren’t the one causing it?” and Mycroft exhales in one long breath.
“You caused it, Sherlock, it was you. You caused it, then sneaked in.”
“And you didn’t even need your security detail to tell you, congratulations.”
“So you could get into my office?”
“Because it was there,” Sherlock says, hands spread wide in a parody of innocence.
“No, so you could get into my office.”
Sherlock smirks, mouth curving up one side and he looks like a demon come to collect Mycroft’s soul. “Not everything is about you, Mycroft.”
“It is my birthday.”
“And also 8% of the population of Britain.”
Then Sherlock stands and Mycroft gets to really see him. He’s wearing a long dark coat, tailored, cut to perfection on his frame and without a doubt very pricey. Sherlock misinterprets his look and says, “I didn’t steal it, I bought it. And I don’t kill kittens, regardless of the rumours.”
He takes off the coat to reveal a suit and silk button-down, all tailored, all made to compliment his leanness, easy lithe smooth lines and simplicity.
“I went to your tailor,” he says, nonchalant, then he scowls. “He asked me what I wanted and I told him I couldn't very well run after London's criminal underground and be shot at looking 'dapper' like you do, really, Mycroft, is that what says 'British government' these days, it's as if you're an expensive attempt at a Victorian gentlemen or something, all you need is the hat and the monocle, though those layers might be necessary to stop bullets, no, I told him I needed something functional. He was rather skittish. Almost poked me a few times with those damn pins.”
“You probably scared him half to death,” Mycroft retorts and he doesn’t want Sherlock to intuit how impressed he is. “That coat must've cost at least a thousand pounds."
"It did. I put it and my new wardrobe on your bill."
"You better be worth every penny."
"I am not a high-class whore, Mycroft." He stops Mycroft as he opens his mouth. "Not a courtesan either. Or rent boy."
Sherlock glares and Mycroft smiles serenely as Danae brings in a tray of tea, swapping it for a folder of pages Mycroft signed earlier. Shrugging out of the blazer, Sherlock rolls his sleeves up; he did that at the tailor’s too, the poor little tailor staring in mute horror as Sherlock rolled costly cloth as if it were nothing.
“What brought this about,” Mycroft asks, cautious, because he doesn’t want to spook Sherlock and Sherlock knows it, from his expression over his teacup.
“Spare me. After helping the good Detective Inspector Lestrade close out a baker’s dozen of cases, he’d like for me to come to the next crime scene.”
“And you wanted to show him who’s boss?” Mycroft asks in an American accent.
“Oh good God, Mycroft, don’t ever do that again.” Sherlock pinches the bridge of his nose, scrunching his eyes shut. “I took a leaf out of your book.”
“Intimidation by appallingly expensive clothing.”
“Oh, of course,” Mycroft agrees, annoyed, frowning at Sherlock. “Why don’t you just deduce him into submission?”
"Are you planning to date him?"
And Sherlock is furious, all but letting the teacup fall from his fingers. "This will be my work now, Mycroft, you have me working with the man who arrested me as a junkie. It won't do if he continues to see me that way. You really are daft, aren't you. I always thought you were a genius. At least one of us is."
This could turn into an argument, Sherlock is ready to dig in the trenches and prepare for a battle, so Mycroft cedes the field, a tactical retreat. Heading back to his desk, he sets his tea down and Sherlock follows him, depositing his cup on a pile of papers labeled NATO and he catches Mycroft by the jacket. His long fingers search around under the edge of the desk until there’s a soft click and the doors to Mycroft’s office, the two main ones and the hidden one, lock simultaneously. Then Sherlock drags him in by his jacket and kisses him, dark and dirty, and he reads Mycroft’s mind, “Why not in your office. They only sweep the hallway and I’m on the list now. But I hope you don’t entertain all your visitors like this.”
“Only the high-class whores in expensive coats.”
“It does give me a dramatic advantage.”
“Since you obviously needed one.”
Sherlock is coming out the other side of these withdrawals more like himself, like he used to be before uni and all the little betrayals starting when Mycroft left home. They’re both emerging in a new-old fashion, with their shared blood thrumming fast and thick, and they know each other better, see each other clearly, and it’s all there, love and want in their throats, Mycroft is thirty-two and Sherlock is not quite twenty-five.
Long, slow kisses, time enough, more and more, but they have to break apart for the chemical burn in their lungs, shaking, a flush on Sherlock’s cheeks and his hair a mess because Mycroft has to touch, Mycroft’s waistcoat and tie rumpled because Sherlock’s hands wander. He rests his forehead against Mycroft’s shoulder and they breathe in sync.
“Dinner?” Sherlock asks after a moment. “Not for your birthday.”
They sip their tea with the faint noises of an alarm keening somewhere a few floors down.
Hestia (she changed her name after Sherlock’s ‘visit’, but Mycroft despairs at the continuation of Greek) ferries Detective Inspector Lestrade to him at 17.00 on the dot, right on schedule. The DI climbs out of the car, glancing everywhere around him and Mycroft appreciates the man’s thoroughness; it’s the sign of a good cop to know where the exits are, to quick-evaluate strange surroundings and environs.
People tend to view the Holmes brothers as dark geniuses, omniscient and omnipotent, the two of them having no scruples whatsoever regarding social rules and boundaries or sometimes human life, they’ll do what they need to in order to get what they want, manipulate whomever and however they can. In a certain light, it’s all true, but Mycroft likes to play with those assumptions, even when the person he’s talking to isn’t completely aware of his connection to Sherlock Holmes.
He likes to make them sound even worse.
Lestrade isn’t a pushover by any means; he’s close in height to Mycroft and Sherlock and he’s fit, takes reasonable care of himself, his clothes nicer than most Yarders Mycroft’s had the displeasure to meet.
The silver hair and large dark eyes make him exceedingly interesting and he comes to stand in front of Mycroft without fear, stance wide as if he’s expecting a fight.
“Good evening, Detective Inspector Lestrade.”
“Evening. And you are…”
“Pleased to finally meet you.”
“Ah, I see,” Lestrade says, rocking back on his heels as if he deals with this sort of thing every day. “The young woman said this has to do with Sherlock Holmes.”
“Yes, I understand you’re working with him. Fighting crime together. Very admirable.”
“Yeah, the great and noble task of a policeman. It goes much easier with Sherlock, even if he is a nutter.”
Mycroft laughs because it’s been years since someone’s said that to his face. “You must be good at your job if you can put up with Sherlock.”
“Might as well be Captain for all I put up with Sherlock,” Lestrade says, sticking his hands in his pockets and Mycroft decides his gun must be at the small of his back, his phone in his right pocket and he’ll be ready to call for backup if necessary. “Though if he’s as good at a crime scene as he is with just files…so what do you care?”
“I’m an associate of his. I wanted to make sure—“
“So Sherlock has friends in high places. Very high places. Why’m I not surprised. Trust me, nothing’s going to happen to him. Unless he does it on his own.” The DI nods his head, you know what I mean, and continues, “I won’t trust him with a gun just yet and I won’t trust him to do much else but get himself shot by an officer of the Met, but he might do some good.”
“You might do some good,” Mycroft ventures. “Detective Inspector G. Lestrade, the G stands for—well, that isn’t common knowledge, is it, you much prefer to be called Lestrade. It’s hard to keep your Christian name from being known. Congratulations.”
Lestrade’s eyes glitter, hard. “I’m that bloke, ‘known only to his friends as’.”
“Divorced two years ago after a decade of marriage. Was it the job?” Mycroft provokes the other man, he wants to see how he’ll react because if he can’t handle a few simple questions, he won’t handle Sherlock. Lestrade shifts his weight, a fighter’s switch in energy, but he doesn’t reply. “Yes, yes it was. Too many late nights. You saw too many violent crimes, too much death and you didn’t take it home, but it followed you anyway. It upset her, but it didn’t upset you. You can take the violence. You possess a strong stomach. Perhaps because you come from a family of police officers.”
Mycroft nods because he doesn’t need his notes for this, he can see it written all over the other man and Lestrade nods back. “It’s there in your stance, you became an officer because your father was and your grandfather and your great-grandfather. It fell to you. No brothers. All sisters. One who died in a robbery.”
“She was high on heroin and her dealer tried to take her money. Shot her three times in the chest for twenty quid,” Lestrade spits out. “Is this why we’re supposed to be discussing Sherlock Holmes? Y’know, I remembered him, as soon as I saw him, marching into my office without so much as a by-your-leave, calling me brainless and ordering me about. In my own office. Yeah, I remembered slapping cuffs on him for a drugs charge. Cocaine. High as a fucking kite. Is that what you wanted to talk about.”
It’s always refreshing to talk to people who have a modicum of intelligence and Lestrade has more than average, he’s very smart and Mycroft is beginning to admire him.
He made the right choice in Detective Inspector Lestrade.
“Yes, precisely. It is unfortunate Sherlock’s genius required a little distraction, once upon a time. I confess I hope that in working with you, he won’t need to return to the drug,” Mycroft says, frank; honesty is best with this man.
Sighing, Lestrade runs a hand through his hair and his shoulders relax and it’s remarkable because he’s in an empty shipping warehouse at the whims of a stranger, but he’s confident enough to relax.
Mycroft cannot underestimate him.
“If he’s such a bloody great genius, why’d he get himself arrested.”
“Alas, it is one of the mysteries of life, Inspector,” Mycroft replies, smirking, and Lestrade laughs under his breath.
“He’s insane, but he’s brilliant.” Then Lestrade rolls his eyes. “You’re his ‘associate,’ bloody hell, don’t tell him I said that.”
Tilting his head, Mycroft smiles. “So do I need to worry about him?”
“I’m sure you worry about him plenty or we wouldn’t be here. I’d bet good money you worry enough about him to put me down like a dog if you thought I’d do something to him,” Lestrade asserts, pointing at him as if he’s taking aim. “And you wouldn’t have to get your hands dirty, I imagine I’d just disappear.”
“Ah, of course, once a policeman, always a policeman, so suspicious of others,” Mycroft says with a wave of understanding.
“I think we’re pretty clear on where we stand.”
“Good, good. Now, if I’m not mistaken, you just received a case involving stolen diamonds, a pair of dead male twins, and paint instead of blood. The tape’s just going up now.”
Surprise passes over Lestrade briefly, then he straightens. “I’m not going to ask how you know. I suppose you want me to call you when the case is closed?” Pure, bald-faced snark thrown in open challenge with a handsome grin, and Mycroft laughs.
“If you want.”
“No doubt I’ll find your number programmed into my phone. You’re not an ‘associate,’ are you. You’re a relative.”
“Ah, see, that would be telling.”
“And you’re in the business of keeping secrets, not telling them.”
“Very good, Inspector, gold star. But if you’ll excuse me, I have a dinner engagement.”
Lestrade’s grin grows and Mycroft says in response to the other man’s unspoken joke, “I do eat.”
Lestrade laughs and Mycroft walks away; he can trust the DI enough to turn his back. He hears the engine start and a car door slam. Hestia will take Lestrade directly to his crime scene.
At the restaurant, he’s seated at the table and Sherlock whirls in not a minute later in a gust of cold and words. “Why’d you kidnap my DI?”
“Your DI? How sweet, you’re so possessive so fast.”
“He texted me he had a case and oh, by the by, he’d met my fatuous, overbearing brother.”
Mycroft opens the menu and ignores the flutter in his stomach. “I doubt he used those terms, those are all yours. But he figured it out, our relation. He is very good, Sherlock, you picked the right man to arrest you.”
“Don’t tell him that, you’ll only encourage him and serve to drive me up a wall.”
Sherlock’s shifting from foot to foot in excitement and indignation, as if he’s eternally three years old, and Mycroft pushes at him.
“It’s diamonds and—”
“No, no no no, do not tell me. And don’t have any tiramisu. It counts as cake.”
His brother disappears with an evil smile.
Sometime early in the dark of morning, Mycroft’s awakened by the door of his bedroom opening and Sherlock comes in, switching on a lamp. He’s naked and carrying something black in front of him like a sword, tip down.
“I hope none of the staff saw you like that,” Mycroft says, squinting at the clock.
“Your ghostly, invisible staff is merely that: ghostly and invisible, and yet again, your thugs are reprehensibly awful at their jobs.”
“No, they know to let you in.”
“Or there’s that,” he says, “look what I found,” and Mycroft blinks, sitting up to see his missing umbrella, the one from Sherlock’s flat.
“Where was it?”
“Behind the mattresses. No, I don’t know how it got back there either and I don’t know how we missed it, given our combined genius.” Sherlock snorts and Mycroft smirks. “But I took the liberty.”
Sherlock holds the umbrella up, coming around to Mycroft’s side of the bed and points it at him, then he rubs his thumb over the curved wooden handle.
Out from the tip shoots a knife, stiletto small, fast as a switchblade and Sherlock sets the edge of the blade against Mycroft’s throat.
“I’m not a bloody Bond villain, Sherlock!”
“Maybe you ought to be. Lestrade certainly thinks so. You made quite the impression on him; it was the clothes, wasn’t it, I knew that’s how you did it.”
“You are dating him,” Mycroft retorts, groaning, “why don’t you go be naked in his bedroom with your weaponized umbrella.”
“I don’t think I like your jealousy or your euphemism, Mycroft, they’re both lacking in originality and any sort of logic or sense.”
He crawls onto the bed, still holding the blade to Mycroft’s skin and his eyes are so bright Mycroft has to kiss him, the knife cutting him a little under his jaw when he moves.
“I’m very disappointed you didn’t think of this first,” Sherlock says, breathing hard, as he flicks the hidden button and the blade retracts. He knocks the umbrella to the floor and straddles Mycroft, leaning down, mouth against Mycroft’s skin. “Why have a weapons scare if you didn’t cause it.”
Sherlock is twenty-five and the world is defective and he could fix it, but what’s the use, some idiot will just come along and pick at the seams until it frays yet again. He'd rather let Mycroft take it over.
He doesn’t understand how people can still be moving when they don't have a shred of brain matter in their skulls; they're all so dull and vacant. However, they do give him bright spots in his days now with their sheer tenacity for committing crimes and being utterly obtuse in how they go about it.
Every text or call from Lestrade is a new puzzle for Sherlock and some of them are really good, some of them are actually worth his time. The rest are enough for him to lose faith in human evolution due to their complete lack of challenge: the culprit is easily captured because they forgot to wear gloves (the first rule) or they borrowed a neighbour's ladder (honestly) or they bought rat poison and used a card (inexcusable). Those cases make him want to scream and pay someone to build him a better class of criminal. Maybe Mycroft will indulge him for his next birthday.
Today though, oh, it's a red-letter day because there's a corpse missing his wallet and eyes and tongue, the fifth in a long gruesome line and it's a serial killer, Sherlock loves a good serial killer because they're so stimulating. He hopes this one is worth his weight in blood loss.
He's knelt down to examine the man's fingertips when Lestrade nudges him with the toe of his shoe.
"Oi, Sherlock, don't look so bleedin' happy.”
“This is a dead man you're examining, not some naked revue for your sole pleasure," he says, but Sherlock doesn't look up because there's something peculiar under the man's nails.
"What does nudity in theatrical entertainment have to do with this," Sherlock asks. Above him, Lestrade sighs and nudges him again, harder this time.
"Just try to calm down, eh. You're scaring the techs."
"Excellent, they need a good scare, keeps them in line. Maybe then they'll know to stay away until after I've completed my examination."
"They're just trying to do their jobs, Sherlock. They do get paid."
"All the more reason for them to be scared. If they learn anything, it'll be to do their job properly," Sherlock rejoins, standing. "This man was abducted while he was in his garden, planting seeds. I'll need a sample sent to Bart's before I can tell you where."
Lestrade rubs the back of his neck. "You're at Bart's on a probationary trial basis, Sherlock, remember. If you keep insulting the staff there—"
"Oh, just do it, Lestrade," Sherlock huffs, "and this man is like the others. He didn't die from the trauma inflicted on his eyes and tongue. He died after. Strangulation, I'd say, judging by the bruising on his trachea." He goes quiet because not having an assistant is hampering his progress, slowing him down from solving these with better accuracy. Especially without a proper medical degree. He knows plenty, but it's not enough. "I need someone to assist me."
The DI is skirting around the corpse, wrinkling his nose at the empty eye sockets. "You need better people skills. You're lucky the forensics team doesn't beat you black and blue when they see you coming."
"Wouldn't be the first time."
And the expression on Lestrade's face is surprising sadness, Sherlock sees, because he immediately knows what Sherlock said is true.
Sherlock sometimes forgets what it’s like outside his and Mycroft’s little bubble, the world they’ve created with their sheer brain and willpower. Alienation is natural, what with having to deal with people up close and personal, having to muck about with their arbitrary rules and norms which are so arbitrary. Mycroft keeps telling him to learn; he keeps telling Mycroft people need to learn from him and not waste time.
He gets a taxi to Bart's and texts Mycroft: Missing eyes and tongue like the others. SH
With more people to text, he started signing off on whatever he sends, so there is identification and no misunderstanding in what he says. Mycroft copies him because Lestrade texted his brother once with a request to ship Sherlock off to South Africa: he had gotten into an argument with a dimwitted tech named Anderson and Lestrade almost arrested them both. Mycroft told Lestrade he’d be happy to send Sherlock to South Africa, but the people there had already suffered enough injustice and Lestrade saved that text on his phone for future reference and amusement.
He's killing faster now. I don't believe he's keeping trophies. MH
Sherlock closes his eyes against the reflections of London on the cab windows. The killer disposes of what he takes. "The Thames."
The Thames. MH
He could kiss that over-starched, jumped-up brother of his, in his office, in front of that pert, brunette assistant, and Lestrade. Rules are so boring.
Later in bed, he nips at Mycroft’s tongue and Mycroft says, “Trophy.”
Sherlock is twenty-six and in between the flashing police lights, he spots the newest killer, peering around like a looky-loo, who’s the moron that comes back to the scene of the crime, Sherlock’s deeply disappointed even as he sprints towards the tape, ducking under it and the killer takes to her feet.
Behind him, he hears newly-assigned Sergeant Donovan yell, but he isn’t about to stop, not for anything because the killer is going to get away and they’ll have to hunt her down again, the Yard’s process is so glacially slow sometimes.
Feet pounding over London pavement in staccato off-rhythm and this is euphoria, though it could be simply a runner’s high, but Sergeant Donovan is chasing after him as he chases after the killer and the boredom is nowhere on the horizon.
He’s closing in on the woman scorned by her now-dead obsession and her shadow morphs in front of him and bloody fucking hell, she’s got a gun, firing at him in quick pulls of the trigger, so close he can hear them fly past like wasps, then one clips him in the leg, and Sherlock stumbles, hits the asphalt hard. Donovan dashes past him and he scrambles to his feet, pain shooting up into his hip and down into his knee, but Sherlock ignores it and runs.
More gunshots and he sees Donovan sprint to a crumpled figure on the ground. The woman is winged, gun near her open fingers, and Sherlock fights his limp as Donovan scoots the gun away with her shoe.
“Next time, freak, just let one of us know you saw the killer, yeah? We’re actually trained to deal with a suspect.”
“Talk them to death, yes, I know, Sally, I’ve seen it in action,” Sherlock says because the use of her Christian name infuriates her since he doesn’t ‘have the proper fucking respect,’ as she told Lestrade in a none-too-quiet voice two crime scenes ago.
All this abuse from Sergeant Donovan because the first time Sherlock met her, he dissolved her life down to how she takes her coffee and is left-handed but fires her gun with her right and is distrustful of almost everyone, especially men, excluding Lestrade and reads only non-fiction because fiction isn’t about real life.
She checks the woman’s shoulder, keeping her on the ground and Sherlock leans against a nearby car, feeling the blood warm his trousers. It’s a graze, he can tell, and Donovan doesn’t look too concerned, she simply says, “Don’t get your freak blood all over me.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Sergeant, it’d be an improvement, I assure you.”
Then Lestrade is there and Sherlock’s feeling dizzy as he says, “She shot me, Lestrade.”
Sherlock laughs at her indignant “I wouldnta missed!” and presses a hand to his wound. “Good guess, they really do teach deductive skills at Scotland Yard.”
Lestrade rolls his eyes as he radios for a medic and offers Sherlock a handkerchief. “I’m gonna catch hell from your brother, y’know,” he snaps, then jumps as his phone beeps. “Oh fucking—how does he know.”
As long as he’s in one piece and not in a vegetative state. MH
Sherlock points to the CCTV camera trained on them from the bank windows overhead and Lestrade rubs at his eyes. “I don’t know if that’s cute or creepy.”
“I’d go with creepy,” Donovan says from where she’s kneeling on the sidewalk. “Whatever it is you’re talking about, if it’s involving Sherlock, it’s creepy. Or even fucking creepy. Sounds more accurate.”
But Mycroft is incensed and ridiculously worried, Sherlock can tell from the string of texts he’s getting, standing there, and the buzzing in his pocket might be making him dizzier, the little electrical spikes of his brother’s love.
Sherlock is twenty-seven and Mycroft is thirty-four and four hours ago, Sherlock escaped from the brutal clutches of a smuggling ring kingpin and his right-hand man. Escaped with cracked ribs, a black eye, finger-bands of bruises on his throat and various other bruises in the shapes of knuckles and bootprints. He managed to give Lestrade enough time to find him, though it wasn’t in the most pleasurable way possible, being a human punching bag. Having your phone traced is useful, at least in this instance, otherwise, Sherlock would have to be annoyed.
One thing he’s learned is death threats come very easily. He receives them constantly, like bouquets of flowers, and each insult and threat are badges of honour because he’s solved another one deserving of death threats.
He forced himself to stand up straight through the pain while the impotent curs shouted abuse. Music to his ears.
A smuggling ring, this is new, Sherlock will have to make sure he gets the write-up on this one; he likes to keep a single page summary of each case, (if it can be cut down to a single page, occasionally, it’s more) and usually, Dido or whatever her name is now, presents it to him in an envelope, cobbled together from the official Yard report, Mycroft’s department’s own report and then Sherlock scribbles all his own observations and corrections in the margins.
So the smuggling ring was shut down and after some bandaging, Sherlock escapes Scotland Yard to hobble home to his flat only to find Mycroft there.
The expression on Mycroft’s face reminds Sherlock of when he was four and Mycroft rescued him from the neighbour boy, his brother the towering saviour who sent the kid home bloodied and blubbering like the little pig he was.
Since Sherlock has a burning hatred of hospitals and refused to go, only letting the medics on hand clean him up, they both need reassurance, Mycroft as the big brother needing to ease his little brother’s pain, Sherlock as he’s been beaten almost to the point of unconsciousness, so they touch gingerly, Mycroft stroking down his throat and arms, and Sherlock leans into him, wanting to say something, but he can only cough. Mycroft leads him to the bedroom and undresses him, piece by piece and feeds him painkillers and Sherlock’s head is cottoned with the pain, the drugs, and Mycroft’s touches.
He focuses on Mycroft’s fingers as his brother labels Sherlock’s bones, light feathering brushes of his fingertips down his chest and belly, and the soothing, low sound of his voice, clavicle; manubrium; sternum; costae verae; costae spuriae; costae fluitantes; wing of ilium; iliac crest.
A thumb edges around the black eye and smoothes over his bruises, and they don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves, and this certainly won’t be the last time a criminal takes his frustrations out on Sherlock, but it doesn’t matter.
“You have a bad habit of escaping my security system,” Mycroft murmurs and Sherlock cough-laughs.
“I’d say it’s a very good habit.” He watches Mycroft’s reaction and sure enough, he’s livid, at Sherlock, at London, at the fucking criminal class, at the blood pooling under Sherlock’s skin, at the ribs with their hairline cracks curving over his lungs. “You know what’s an excellent painkiller?”
“A release of endorphins,” Mycroft replies with a faint smile, settling down beside him on the bed.
“A+. I’m drugged and vulnerable, you can do with me what you will.”
“Within reason, Sherlock, within reason. You do have cracked ribs and—”
Sherlock shuts him up with a palm over his mouth.
Above his fingers, his brother’s eyes shine through his anger and relief, like Sherlock’s but bluer. Then he remembers his hand is getting in the way of kissing his brother who holds him like something fragile, like a tiny furcula safe in a box on Sherlock’s bookshelves.
In the morning, they narrowly elude detection when Lestrade drops by to check on Sherlock. They’re drinking tea, dressed (Mycroft in his suit, Sherlock in pyjamas), and they’re discussing the merits of tissue degradation by foreign toxins for charting the timeline of death when such death is caused by the foreign toxins in the first place, and Lestrade walks in with an expression as if he’s just put his foot in it.
He nods to Mycroft, says, “I didn’t do this to him, if that’s what you’re asking. He might get on my last bloody nerve and be an absolute menace—“
“Oh, really, Lestrade, as if you were capable of beating me into the ground,” Sherlock interrupts, impatient, his voice hoarse under the livid bruises on his throat.
Lestrade rolls his eyes. “Just you watch it,” he says, pointing, and Sherlock smirks and Mycroft laughs, says, “Not that we don’t doubt your potential to inflict harm.”
“And where was your shadowy security for this?” Lestrade demands, waving at Sherlock and Sherlock’s surprised by the quick-flare of anger in his voice, his defensive stance on Sherlock’s behalf, but anyone would be upset if the brains of their operation was damaged.
His brother frowns, staring into his teacup. “I am in the process of acquiring a better detail. If you haven’t noticed, Inspector, Sherlock tends to be—“
“Erratic? Chaotic? Flighty?” Lestrade tilts his head. “Troublesome?”
“Mercurial,” Mycroft supplies and the air changes, a smell of conspiracy and Sherlock sits up, cradling his ribs.
“What is going on here?”
The DI smiles, enigmatic, and pretends to think and it’s infuriating to Sherlock because that smile is contagious, it’s passed over to Mycroft.
“Your brother and I have an understanding. Basically, I’d really rather not disappear from the face of the earth, so I have to keep you from doing something unbelievably stupid.”
“Which, as all parties present know, is an almost unachievable feat. But as you’re alive this time,” Mycroft says, “the good DI is still safe. For the time being.”
Lestrade shakes his head, his smile curling. “I could shoot you, don’t tempt me.”
Sherlock is too tired and injured, and they’re ignoring him in his wounded, delicate state in order to commiserate with each other over how ‘troublesome’ he is, and it’s completely uncalled-for.
“If you two are dating, just get out of here and go coo at each other over breakfast, Mycroft’s treat, of course, because he certainly knows how to buy the best,” Sherlock hisses and it’s disconcerting how neither his brother nor Lestrade understand the insult he’s just flung at them.
Instead, they laugh and Sherlock huffs, this turn of events is abominable and they need to haul their loathsome, vile selves out of his flat.
“No cases for at least a week,” Lestrade says, hands in his pockets as if he’s innocent of something and Sherlock glares at him. “Hey, doctor’s orders.”
“What doctor, I didn’t—“
“Sherlock. No. Cases.” He nods at Mycroft and scowls at Sherlock, eyebrow raised in warning as he leaves.
Mycroft looks smug and self-satisfied and Sherlock just wants him to go away so he can indulge in his bruises. “Get out, Mycroft.”
“I’ll be back tonight.” His brother stands, collecting their teacups, then he leans down to kiss Sherlock. Sherlock kisses him back, but is petulant about it, the bastard needs a swift kick to the arse.
“Stop conspiring about me.”
Sherlock is twenty-eight and Mycroft is thirty-five and gone somewhere on the Continent (Germany, most likely, from the pages he’d seen strewn about on Mycroft’s desk two days before he left) on a rare work trip and there’s no word from Lestrade about any new cases.
The days are cloudy and rainy, with sharp winds and Sherlock wanders from room to room with his violin, imitating the wind.
It’s obnoxious. He has experiments he’s running at Bart’s he could check on, but one of them requires a trip to the morgue and he’s likely to be accosted by the newest resident, Molly, who follows him around like a hovering, grinning puppy dog with wide eyes like a lemur who asks a lot of questions in a chit-chattering tin monkey way and stands very close to Sherlock as if he’s conducting static electricity and his metaphors are lacking in cohesive quality, he’s so bored.
He’s not staying at his flat afraid of excessive female attention. He’s staying at his flat because it’s miserable out and Mycroft’s gone and Lestrade’s incommunicado and he’s much more comfortable here, wallowing in his dull angst.
There’s not much for it but to read and play the violin and he turns on the telly only to sit through a Midsomer Murders marathon, which makes him ready to shoot the damn television because each murder is so bloody simple. It’s really alarming how many murders could occur in one county.
He texts Lestrade who ignores him like no one else ever has, not even Mycroft. The silence from the hunk of metal and plastic and glass is deafening.
He texts Mycroft and willfully doesn’t pay attention to how many he’s sending and how he preemptively replies.
The boredom is back. Am dealing with it in a constructive manner. SH
Constructive means building various mice traps. I think there are mice in the walls. SH
No, it’s not the drugs talking, the only drug I’m on is nicotine. I smoked through all my packs. SH
Which might be why my hands are shaking. Must acquire more cigarettes. SH
I hope it’s bloody raining in Germany, you tosser, since you’ve abandoned me to drown here. SH
He checks the weather in Frankfurt on his phone: cloudy, possible showers in the afternoon.
If it is raining, you should have your weaponized umbrella. Who doesn’t want to kill someone in the rain and stay dry? SH
He’s still recovering from a knife slash above his elbow when a cornered suspect lashed out with a blade no one saw coming. He failed to mention that little adventure to Mycroft, but when Clymene (“Still Greek,” Sherlock said, clicking his tongue, and she said, “Oh, so you noticed I’m working to annoy you, well deduced”) brought him a sport elbow sleeve so he wouldn’t mess with the stitches, Sherlock texted Mycroft as she left, Your obsession is getting out of hand. SH and the response forced him to sit down with a lab book before he did something rash: It’s not my fault you are accident-prone. You’re lucky you didn’t wear armour as a child. MH
His elbow itches now.
I think I’ve built an impressive Rube Goldberg machine capable of shelving a book. SH
No, actually, I fixed your automatic tea-pouring machine. It works now. It won’t spill tea over your lap. Will attend to any burns you get from testing said machine. SH
Kindly kill someone for me in a challenging manner, so I can do my job and then we can discuss your jail sentence. SH
The clock says 15.23 a day later when his phone buzzes and Sherlock’s lying on his back with his feet propped against the wall as if he’s embodying geometry and maybe he is since everything else is so dull and he’s taken to throwing the darts he nicked from a nearby pub at the bullseye he’s painted on the ceiling.
Lestrade wants you to stop texting him. He’s busy doing paperwork. Perhaps you could help since you’ve caused most of it. MH
Leaving London has made you lose your mind. I will do no such thing. SH
You can survive one more day. It’s enough to make one think you’re obsessed. MH
A dart almost falls on his face.
I left you some files. Have you looked at them? MH
Sherlock remembers the files. He dumped them somewhere over there, in that direction, by the wall, that one wall, over there, in that direction. He doesn’t want Mycroft’s files.
At least look at the pretty pictures, Sherlock. MH
Sighing, he locates the stack and opens the first one. A British national married to an American; he’s an expat and they live in London. On extended holiday in Florida, the American managed to be arrested for the lonelyhearts stalking and killing of three young men. His British wife had remained in England, due to years of arguing and bickering and the fact she didn’t like Florida. She wasn’t upset over his “latent homosexuality”; she told the police officer who came to her door she’d had her suspicions and they’d lived quietly, almost like flatmates for years before he “apparently snapped, good gracious,” and what really bothered her was the killing, “how dare he, those young men, poor, poor dears, all they wanted to do was sit at the beach in Florida.”
Sherlock grins at this interview with Mrs. V. Hudson. He decides to stop by and talk to her himself. It’ll help kill the time anyway. And he needs more cigarettes.
When he arrives, he finds a little flutterby of a woman, with hands like tiny wings, who’s more than prepared to talk his ear off about the weather, traffic, the price of eggs and how sugar is a better accompaniment to tea than milk. It’s like attempting to run between fast-moving cars and he eventually gets a few words in about her husband, the incarcerated American.
“Yes, he might end up on death row, the lout, but good riddance,” Mrs. Hudson says, even her anger is fluttery, “we’ve had a our differences for a long time now, but this one is just too much. Those poor young men. They certainly didn’t deserve him.”
To his endless amusement, she is totally unruffled by the fact her husband might be put to death and is more concerned with whether Sherlock’s comfortable in his overstuffed floral chair.
After talking to her for a bit, Sherlock discovers her husband is a bully too, never physically to her, but always with a harsh word and though she seems to talk incessantly, she seems otherwise…kind. He shrugs, sips his tea and reviews the case in his head.
“If you could help me, Mr. Holmes, I’d greatly appreciate it,” she says, and she shifts a little uncomfortably, “I’m sorry, my hip, it’s always aching, especially in this weather.”
“Mrs. Hudson, I’ll see what I can do,” Sherlock says. “And you can call me Sherlock.”
By the time Mycroft returns from Germany, he’s gathered enough evidence on paper to put the husband away, but he needs to make a few phone calls and Mycroft has to pull the strings.
“This is what you did while I was away,” Mycroft says, scowling at the phone in his office.
“I’m helping my elders, Mycroft, isn’t that what you wanted. Mummy always thought you were the polite one, but—“
“I am the polite one.”
“You just interrupted me.”
The American is duly sentenced to death, Mrs. Hudson invites Sherlock over for tea with a celebratory nip of liquor and after that, he regularly receives invites for tea. Mycroft sends her flowers and she glows when she shows them to Sherlock.
She’s the first person outside of Mycroft and Lestrade who accepts him and whenever he sees her, he gives her a kiss on the cheek and she asks about what murders he’s working on lately.
Sherlock is twenty-nine and Mycroft is thirty-six and it’s a Wednesday with nothing promising on the horizon. Mycroft is in meetings all day (so he claims) and Lestrade says all is quiet on the western front.
The DI made a literary quip and Sherlock thinks he should be rewarded. Maybe by a visit to his office, help him do his job and clear some mouldering cold cases. But Sherlock just lit a cigarette and he’s been thinking over an old case for the past twenty minutes. His phone buzzes.
An opening chess move from Rhea (“Rhea, really, isn’t mother of the gods shooting a bit high? Why not Clytemnestra or Medea? A murderess would suit you,” he said yesterday in Mycroft’s office and she narrowed her eyes. “It might. I don’t think your brother would put me in jail if I killed you”) and Sherlock smiles, flicks ash into his makeshift ashtray also known as a plate. Mycroft must be dictating to her.
He has a chessboard somewhere, where is it, last he saw it was maybe in the kitchen, no, the bathroom, yes, it’s in the tub and he has most of the pieces; he’s lost a white rook and a black knight and the white queen (he thinks, Six impossible things before breakfast) and three pawns, so he substitutes a small beaker, a lighter, a tin of tea, and three cigarettes. He sets the skull on the other side of the board in Mycroft’s place and pats it.
The next move doesn’t appear quickly, so Sherlock flips through some medical journals (stamped BART’S along the pages) and becomes absorbed in a discussion of sepsis.
He grins and then Lestrade calls.
A fall from a rooftop, looks like suicide, possible murder, though witnesses indicate the woman was alone when she fell.
Sherlock hangs up, takes a picture of the board and throws clothes on. He spends his once dull-as-paint day talking to people who don’t know they have eyes in their heads, or possess the proper neocortex to help them remember anything, much less a brain stem keeping them alive. He trudges through a parade of stupid questions, including the woman’s neighbour who nervously keeps repeating himself. Sherlock smokes his way around them as they float by and waits for the buzzing at his hip indicating the next chess move from his brother.
It all degenerates quickly when Lestrade yells at him because it turns out the woman had a lunatic ex-husband and a child who’s been kidnapped. They only have a short time to find her and it’s not that Sherlock doesn’t care, it’s that he’s busy solving their problems because whether or not the child is scared doesn’t factor into how quickly Sherlock can find her.
Another chess move, another clue at the woman’s flat indicating her ex-husband, and honestly, Sherlock thinks more women should be like Mrs. Hudson and stand back to let their husbands do something so monumentally imbecilic they wind up in jail. Then they find the ex-husband dead in his bed, shot through the throat.
Everything is beginning to work against him: the lack of cooperation, Lestrade, the techs, Donovan, yammering away out loud or in their heads until he’s about to commit murder himself just to shut them up so he can bloody think. He understands the homicidal impulse; he knows how to fire a gun and he has decent aim.
He could do it. He grits his teeth.
Mycroft moves his bishop and that’s it, the whole case clears in front of Sherlock, he can see everything, like a bloody great chessboard. He knows who killed the woman and why and who kidnapped the girl and the look of confusion on Lestrade’s face is priceless, Sherlock wants to take a picture, but he doesn’t get his phone out in time.
They track down the killer, the nervously repeating man who is apparently in love with the dead woman. He’s buggered off to hide at his sister’s and it involves lots of running and Sherlock’s got to stop smoking at some point even though it helps with brainwork, but he corners the man and Lestrade swoops in to cuff him and Donovan rescues the little girl, wrapping her in a blanket.
Sherlock forgets his earlier idiotic resolution and smokes a cigarette in victory, then checks his phone only to discover Mycroft predicted their next three moves and declared checkmate.
Lestrade is struggling to subdue the killer as an awkward Met rookie fumbles with the handcuffs. The killer’s screaming about how he’s the father, the little girl is his, that fucking rat-bastard Roger was in the way, he loved Michelle, he didn’t mean for her to die, and Sherlock is reviewing their chess moves, studying the board in his mind.
Crime of passion. MH
The homicidal impulse hasn’t left his system.
You’re about to be the victim of a crime of passion. SH
I cannot wait. Explain it to me like a good villain before you kill me. MH
I don’t have time to explore your hidden kinks, Mycroft, I’m at an arrest. SH
The rookie, Sherlock and Sherlock glances up in time to see the desperate man level a punch at Lestrade, then snatch the gun away from the rookie’s holster.
He aims at anyone who moves and Sherlock catches Lestrade’s eye where he’s hunched on the ground.
Then the man puts the gun to his temple and pulls the trigger.
The girl is Margaret Dunham. SH
Her aunt and uncle are on their way. MH
A convicted felon hellbent on revenge breaks into Sherlock’s flat, but he doesn’t count on Sherlock being awake just before dawn and holding a beaker of chemicals. Thwarted, the wanker goes to tackle Sherlock and gets a face full of experimental acids and blindly empties a clip into the wall before the police arrive.
Too bad you didn’t stay over last night. SH
It is regretful I missed all the festivities. MH
Not ten minutes later, Mycroft and Lestrade are at the door like a pair of mismatched guards.
“Your landlord thinks it best if you vacate the premises,” Mycroft says, umbrella in hand, as if he expects more attackers at any moment.
Lestrade nods, his hands in his pockets. “The prison’s graduating class knows where to find you.”
“They’ll always know where to find me,” Sherlock retorts because even though Montague Street is infested with the little light fishes from Sherlock’s memory and the flat has been somewhat damp the last few winters, he likes it.
“Well, they’ll just have to find you at a new flat,” Lestrade says.
Sherlock is thirty and Mycroft is thirty-seven and Sherlock moves in with him.
“Temporarily,” Sherlock insists, lounging in bed, a naked leg thrown across Mycroft.
“Of course.” Mycroft smirks, seizing Sherlock’s ankle and the fight is on.
Mrs. Hudson is excited to have her favourite eccentric move in, though she knows it will cost her lots of herbal soothers and cups of tea and probably reconstruction/renovating hassles.
But this time round, Sherlock has to have a flatmate, according to Lestrade and Mycroft, and he spits back at them, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”
“Don’t be churlish, Sherlock,” Mycroft says and Sherlock slices through the air with the flat of his hand.
“I don’t need a babysitter.”
Lestrade sighs heavily and Mycroft’s got that gleam in his eye and fine, the flat at Baker Street is really nice, Sherlock might like it there.
So when John Watson appears out of thin air and slides right into their lives, it’s a relief and a surprise.
The good doctor moves into 221b Baker Street without any compunction, except maybe he’s a little offended things happened so quickly.
Mycroft and Sherlock are merely surprised he moved in. Speed has nothing to do with it.
After their little getting-to-know-you session, “kidnapping” as John calls it, Mycroft likes him more and more. A doctor and a soldier, and it’s the perfect combination for his brother, someone to ground him and knock sense into him and protect him.
So very loyal, so fast.
And Sherlock takes to John like a duck to water, startling Sherlock to no end because this “little soldier fellow” as Mycroft names him is normal, but smarter than the dullards who usually surround Sherlock and he can follow Sherlock down almost any path or alley in London or any twisting logical corner. Mycroft has forever been able to translate Sherlock; Lestrade is learning; but John is a natural, rare, like an undiscovered species Sherlock found in the wild.
John says, “You’re an idiot,” after he’s just killed for Sherlock, someone has unquestioningly killed for Sherlock without blinking an eye and Sherlock wants to buy him things: food, milk, ridiculous jumpers, a new electric kettle, more ammunition, because besides Mycroft (and maybe Lestrade, who can’t in good conscience kill due to all those feelings of police duty and ensuing paperwork), no one else would do that for him.
He is a colleague, a friend, someone who’s squeezed his way into Sherlock’s inner circle without even trying. He knows when Sherlock guesses; he knows when Sherlock’s on the verge of a strop; he know how Sherlock takes his tea. He tells Sherlock to his face he thinks Sherlock is brilliant.
Lestrade likes John too, the two of them enjoying being the normal blokes in the cheap seats at the Holmes Three-Ring Circus and they joke about whose turn it is to buy the popcorn. Months later, Lestrade confesses to Sherlock he knows John shot the cabbie.
“But he saved you. And killed a murderer. So.” The DI crooks his lips. “No paperwork.”
Out of respect and a wish for John’s safety, Mycroft keeps his business away from John, though Sherlock still has the insatiable need to know what he’s up to at Whitehall.
But then Mycroft begins dropping by 221b at an alarming rate, alarming for all parties because John dislikes the smooth catlike intrusion, and Sherlock finds it sly and somewhat underhanded, as if Mycroft is blatantly watching Sherlock and blaming it on filial duty. Mycroft’s perturbed at his own jealousy and want and need, but the worst part is Sherlock knows it too, smirking at him with a dagger in his hand, the skull at his elbow on the mantelpiece. In a greedy way, Mycroft knows Sherlock likes his jealousy because it feeds his own selfish little-brother demand to have Mycroft's attention.
“He’s not your toy,” Mycroft warns, “just like you aren’t mine.”
He needs to remind Sherlock that just because they’ve found John (“I found him, Mycroft, it was me”), this missing puzzle piece neither of them knew they had lost, just because Sherlock’s found John doesn't mean he can claim John's things as his, not like he can with Mycroft. John is a separate person who has territories and space and belongings of his own. Sherlock is so possessive: of Mycroft, of John, of their almost-constant attention, and Mycroft clears his throat, smirking, but Sherlock cuts him off, "Oh shut it, Mycroft, John doesn't mind."
"I think he does, when you're stealing his books for density experiments and burning holes in all the blankets. He has to sleep and eat too, wonder of wonders. He’s your friend, Sherlock."
John Watson is intriguing. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, made almost literal by the jumpers he wears, the unassuming look of a man going about his day. The two of them take to dissecting him when he’s around and John tries to stop them, but gives up the fight early, for which they’re both disappointed.
The loyal little soldier fellow causes them to regress like Mummy always has; it’s a magical thing: in his presence, they turn to sniping, childish insults served in their best, politest dressings and John just shakes his head.
“Girls. Stop it. And don’t start texting each other, it’s daft, you’re sitting across from each other, don’t even think about it, Sherlock,” he says, pointing, clutching the Union Jack pillow as if it will shield him from the Holmes brothers. “You two are gonna give me a coronary some day and I’ll have you both banned from the funeral.”
The difficulty lies not in having John around, but in having John around. Together, they love and admire John, can’t imagine their lives without him. He’s the best thing to enter their universe in years. However. Mycroft might be the British government, he might be the hub for knowledge and secrets, he knows how to get secrets and keep them, but the ones he keeps best are his and his brother's.
Discretion becomes even more important now that Sherlock doesn’t live alone and John’s under the mistaken impression they hate each other on sight.
Sometimes they do. Most of the time, they remember slow hands on naked skin and having the person you know best bring you pleasure, over and over again, lying in bed in lazy configurations.
It’s hard to tell this friend you know like a limb that you’re in love with your brother.
“It’s possible he might just call us names and splutter about in shock. Maybe spill tea on his jumper,” Sherlock says as he rifles through the papers on Mycroft’s desk. “I don’t think he’d shoot us.”
“He won’t shoot you,” Mycroft replies, tilting back in his chair to cross his ankles.
Sherlock smiles wickedly and avoids Mycroft’s legs to lean in, his long coat covering them like a mystery. He says against his brother’s mouth, “I might let him shoot you.”
Sherlock and John run amok in London, the detective and the doctor unleashed upon the city and Mycroft’s never seen anything quite like it. John channels Sherlock’s energy like a conduit after years of Sherlock’s lightning flowing everywhere unchecked. Mycroft harnesses him, John helps focus him and Sherlock glares at them for their efforts, but it’s an uneasy truce Mycroft knows will continue on into the future.
John is like Bear, and he loves Sherlock with the same childlike faith and loyalty, though he will question Sherlock when it’s necessary and Mycroft is grateful to the heavens for that ability.
John is like Bear, with his fuzzy jumpers, his cotton-soft insides, his heart of steel and his good simple name because you can’t rename an army doctor anything other than what he is.
[VI. quantum entanglement.]
Sherlock loves spitefully because he doesn’t know why it has to happen to him. He’s in love with his brother, his shared universe in their DNA and mind and soul, the other half of his skull; and he loves John like he’s been missing half his body only to find it, and it’s all very untoward, it’s impossible to function this way, no wonder people commit mindless crimes.
Mycroft loves spitefully because he does know why it has to happen to him. He’s in love with his brother, it’s always been his brother, the other half of his skull, he can’t change it more than he could change their shared DNA; and he loves John for being the warrior-healer who doesn’t put up with Sherlock’s shit, his brother is in good hands when Mycroft isn’t around.
John whispers to Sherlock on a rooftop stakeout, “Your childhood must’ve been…well, unique, to put it mildly,” and when they get back to Baker Street after hours of eagle-eyed watching, John has a text.
You have no idea. I have stories of Sherlock as a child, if you’d like to hear them. MH
“Bloody hell, how does—no, never mind, I don’t. want. to know.” John sighs, arms crossed in defence. “But the stories, yeah, those’d be good,” and he texts quickly before Sherlock can take his mobile away.
One afternoon, Mycroft is waiting for Sherlock to return and John offers him tea and they don’t speak for awhile.
“He used to have this stuffed bear,” Mycroft says, as if he’s attempting a foreign language. “Carried it everywhere, even up trees. He was so distraught when he cut it open to discover it didn’t have any organs,” and John laughs so hard, he almost spills tea everywhere.
“It was frightening to find out my Bear didn’t have organs; how did he function otherwise,” Sherlock says on a gust of air when he enters the room an hour later and Mycroft sips his tea and John stares at Sherlock incredulously.
“How did you—no, I know, you just know when we’re talking about you.” John rests his head on his hand in resignation. “But, Sherlock, it’s a stuffed bear. He doesn’t function.”
“He did. He helped me understand flight,” Sherlock says as if it explains everything.
In his office as he’s reading over stingy intelligence reports provided by the CIA, Mycroft’s phone beeps.
You didn’t tell him about the clockwork heart you built. SH
After an exasperated text to John about having dinner with his brother, Sherlock sets his teeth along the naked, sweaty line of Mycroft’s shoulder and murmurs, “This is because you looked on your CCTV feed and saw me almost set on fire by that mad bastard of a dockworker, isn’t it.”
But Mycroft doesn’t answer, running his hand along Sherlock’s backbone, numbering the vertebrae as Sherlock shivers and they stretch greedily, skin to skin.
Since you so rudely and nakedly interrupted my dinner plans, I believe you owe me. MH
"When you’ve eliminated the impossible, John, whatever remains, however bloody improbable, has to be the truth,” Sherlock tells John at a crime scene, as if he’s creating gospel.
That afternoon while he’s staring at the exposed femur and leg muscles of a body in the morgue, his phone vibrates.
We’ve become an improbable truth. MH
Stop stating the obvious. Your verb tense is incorrect. SH
“We are an improbable truth,” Mycroft says.
Sherlock kisses his brother by the skull on the mantelpiece and says, “But we are a truth.”
Their fingers twist together, their wrists brushing their pulses against each other.
Mycroft says, “Stop stating the obvious.”
Then they hear John’s footsteps on the stairs.